Wednesday, December 23, 2009

to my Grandma...with love

My beautiful grandmother
January 16, 1914 - December 22, 2009

My grandmother left her earthly body on Tuesday morning at 11:00 am (Philippine time, GMT+8), or Monday night at 10 pm (Ohio time, GMT-5). I spoke with my family last night and they said she went peacefully in her sleep.

She lived a long, full life.

My grandmother ALWAYS lived in the present.

Wherever she is, I know she is on her way to a place that is so beautiful, where she can have all the orchids and magnolias and any other flowers she desires. With my grandfather by her side.

My mother also said that she is now "liberated" from discomfort.

And isn't that what we aim for? To be liberated? In Jivamukti Yoga, in which "jivanmukti" means "liberated while living" in Sanskrit, the goal is to be liberated and to live to benefit the lives of others.

Something for me to ponder on as I think about my grandmother in the midst of the busy holidays, and as I reflect on my dreams, goals, and intentions for 2010. How would I benefit the lives of others?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

have yourself a merry little Christmas

A tiny tree.

A candle...
and a prayer/intention for peace.

A snowflake card.

Two kinds of sauteed pears: one batch with white zinfandel, another batch with dried lavender flowers. Absolutely yummy with Haagen Dazs vanilla bean ice cream.

Lavender honey hot chocolate, made with unsweetened, Spanish-style chocolate tablets from the Philippines (thanks, Mom!), dried lavender, raw honey, and soy attempt to re-create the liquid truffles from my favorite chocolate place in Asheville, NC.

Christmas carols, sung by a choir from Cincinnati, playing in the background.

A celebration of love and friendship.

Have a joyful and peaceful holiday with your family and loved ones!

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Monday, December 21, 2009

"No-Knead Bread": an exercise in patience

Here's my first attempt at baking THE no-knead bread. Crazy baker that I am, I am still wondering why it took me so long to give this recipe a try. I have to admit I've felt intimidated by bread. How ironic that bread is so commonplace, eaten in many different shapes, sizes, and variations in countries all over the world... but as common as it is, bread is also... special. They don't call it "artisan" bread for nothing.

Well, here's my first bread baking experience:

Thursday, 11:00 pm: mixed dough, let sit on counter for a LONG time (first rise)
Friday, 5:00 pm: started second rise. Practiced some yoga too - needed to do some pranayama and chant OM to keep from checking the time every 10 minutes)
Friday, 7:00 pm: baked bread for a half hour
Friday, 7:30 pm: took bread out of oven, let the loaf cool while waiting in anticipation of fresh, home-baked bread... couldn't wait to slice into that crispy, golden crust and see the light, airy interior (or at least that's what I hoped)

Friday, 7:45 pm: sliced into the bread. Wonder of wonders. Ate bread like there was no tomorrow, dipping it into a mixture of this extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil. No more time for photos.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

living with less

Ok, here's my confession. My last move has told me that I have A LOT OF STUFF. I have either of these 2 excuses for it: 1) "I am a teacher of young children, and children love usable junk!" or 2) "There's a lot I like to do in life - all of which require STUFF. I teach kids. I am a student. I teach and practice yoga. I cook. I bake. I do photography. I like DOING things. All of which require - yes, STUFF."

Well, as my friends can attest - I do have a lot of stuff. Excuses or not, I am guilty as charged.

My last 3-4 months have been a time of transition. I packed most of my things into boxes and put them in storage (thanks to my brother's large basement). From August to November, I lived in a friend's place (to CD and MK -- THANK YOU!), with only my essential things that can fit into the guest bedroom.... and their pantry (of course I had food.). Then in mid-November I packed and moved again, and I am now living in a tiny apartment in graduate student housing on a university campus.

Ok. My point is, I have been living without my baking equipment. For MONTHS. (Gasp!)

So yes, I am living with less. For someone who used to bake at least once a week, this is huge. I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms from the unthinkable - not baking. I always baked and shared them with whoever accepted my homemade treats with open arms and an appetite.

I thought about it, and wondered, am I too attached to my stuff?

Yoga always taught detachment. Why am I having such a hard time with this?

I realized though, it's not really JUST the "stuff" I miss. I miss the sense of BEING that comes with baking - with the act of quietly measuring, scooping, stirring and pouring. Baking provided that sense of calm for me after a rough day. Or that sense of delight and enjoyment in celebration of happy times. And all moments in between -- I bake.

In this month's issue of Yoga Journal, I read this:

"Every Saturday morning I'd roll out of bed bleary-eyed, fill an empty bundt cake pan wiht batter, and give the resulting cake to someone in need of comfort or a little celebration. As I listened to the city wake up, I counted and chopped, mixed and measured. And in the process, my mind became still, my breath slowed, my body felt balanced and at peace. What I experienced was more than mixing butter and eggs -- it was a practice in baking and giving from the heart." - Rachel Meyer, The Joy of Baking, Yoga Journal December 2009

Ok, so maybe I don't jump out of bed to bake in the morning. Night owl that I am, I'm more likely to stay up at night to be in my kitchen. But I can totally relate to what she wrote. Baking - or cooking, is a practice of something that's almost... yogic. In the sense of emptying the mind, feeling centered and being present, and offering an action with a sense of full intention.

See why I miss it? (And why I miss my STUFF?)

This time of year is usually a frenzy of activity in my kitchen. But it's not happening this year, until I get my baking equipment out of storage. And as soon as that happens, I'm going to bake like it's nobody's business.

(Background: chocolate chip-walnut banana muffins;
foreground: vegan chai spice cupcakes with vanilla buttercream,
recipe from my go-to cupcake cookbook)

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Friday, December 18, 2009

shopping locally

I recently had the good fortune to find a natural foods store less than 2 miles from where I live. It's not your usual Whole Foods or massive big-box grocery store. It's a tiny little community-run store, that sells a small selection of produce (mostly organically grown in local farms), different kinds of beans, rice, flours, nuts, pastas, etc in bulk, as well as dry goods, fresh artisan bread, healthy deli takeout items, and organic/natural self-care products. They had rows and rows of whole spices and loose teas, in antique jars with beautiful handwritten and hand-drawn labels. They were so pretty, I asked if I could take a photo. The storekeeper hesitated, asking what I would be using them for. I said that it would just be for personal use, since I enjoy photography and I like taking pictures of places I go to.

She said, "Well, as long as you're not spying for Whole Foods, I guess it should be ok."

Hmmm. Do I fit the profile of a Whole Foods spy, if there is such a thing? Well, thinking about it, I did have my big chunky camera. I was wearing my black newsboy-style cap, my fall/winter favorite. I wonder if that had anything to do with it.

So because of that conversation, I am not posting photos here. If you are in the Kent area, just pay a visit to the store.

I found some avocados, which I love to have but are usually quite expensive in grocery stores - sometimes up to $1.99 each.

I asked the storekeeper how much they were selling their avocados. She answered, "$1.49, but it if you think it should be lower then we can reduce it."


That was an unexpected response. How often do you have that kind of transaction in stores anymore? The storekeeper must have sensed my surprise, because she smiled. I thought about it, debating whether I should haggle (which we always do in markets back home), or whether I should just pay the full price - after all, it IS a small, local business operated and supported by a community, not a corporation.

To that I said, "would it be fair to ask for a markdown if I choose the fully ripe ones?"

Fair enough. She gave them to me for 99 cents a piece. I thanked her.

Being the happy grocery shopper that I am, I got a few more items that you wouldn't find in regular grocery stores. I was quite pleased.

This experience really reinforces for me the value of buying local. Granted, I am unable to do it ALL the time. I do shop in those massive big-box grocery stores too. But every little bit counts. For this holiday season, I tried my best to do most of my Christmas shopping in the local stores I knew and liked, such as the ones here, before I left Cincinnati. Those are the ones you want to keep afloat. Those are the ones who are run by people who believe in their product and believe in fair business. The ones where you know the storekeepers by name, and they know you.

I read somewhere that your dollar is worth at least three times as much if you spend it locally. I don't know the math behind it, so don't ask me why. But here is more information about the value of buying local. Click here.

So, as you finish up the last of your Christmas shopping, consider a visit to the small, mom-and-pop businesses in your neighborhood. At a time when every penny counts, let's keep our dollars where they can help the most.

As for me, I left that store feeling hopeful about the fact that yes, there are honest, fair, and generous businesses. And, I had my takeout dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava to look forward to.

Which were very good, by the way. But that's not the only reason for me to go back.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Third Places

I have to admit that after moving to a new city, there are a LOT of things I miss about my previous stomping grounds. After living in a certain place for a while, you start to find your "Third Place" - the place you spend time in besides your home and office. I had many of those "third places".

This market.

As you enter the market building, you can smell the vanilla-and-caramelized-sugar-goodness of this waffle that's like no other waffle you've tried. Not unless you've been to Belgium. (Thank goodness they can ship these goodies. I was relieved to find that out.)

And in that same market, there's this Italian deli that makes these tasty paninis on the spot - vegetables and a variety of pesto to choose from, piled on their own baguette that has that wonderful crispy crust and chewy interior. Mmmm... the #15 vegetarian panini.... or the #18. Yes, I was there THAT often, I knew the paninis by number.

They also sell this wonderful unfiltered olive oil, AKA "liquid gold". It's so good, I cannot bear to cook with it (you're not supposed to, anyway) - I only save it for drizzling over dishes as a finishing touch, or for dipping this artisan bread in it, to really be able to savor the bright, fruity taste.

The proud storekeeper said that he was "the only retailer selling this olive oil on this side of the Mississippi." That's what I love about independently-owned stores. You get to talk to the storekeepers who believe in their product, and are proud of their business and what it brings to the community. You have conversations, exchange recipes.

Then there's my favorite, Zen-like tea place. My daily morning routine always involves their Earl Grey loose tea. (Thank goodness they can ship too... I'm halfway through my 8-ounce tin.)

Oh, and I also have to mention this restaurant/deli/specialty store that makes THE. BEST. BROWNIES.

This park. For long walks, picnics, visits to the Playhouse and the Conservatory.

(The banners on the streetlamps read: GREAT ART HERE. I like that.)

Then there's this charming strip of local stores and non-chain coffee shops, less than a mile from where I used to live. I used to just walk to this place on a weekend afternoon, browse through the unique things in the shops.

(Did my Christmas shopping here already)

Then I would sit in this coffee shop, whether solo or with a friend, to have The Waffle.

(photo above by EyesOpenWide)

I miss how close my "third places" are to each other. I would only drive (or walk) a few miles and I'd be there.

Well, I don't regret my decision to move - not a bit. But it's only human, after all, to wish for those places of comfort and familiarity. That sense of routine on a Saturday morning - picking up a loaf of bread from Shadeau (and yeah, a couple of chocolate croissants, too), crossing the street to Iris BookCafe, then heading to the market. Taking long walks in Eden Park, enjoying the scent and song of old trees.

So... I am now on a mission to find my "third places" here in my new city. Will write an update on that soon.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

dry spell

... not weather-wise. I'm talking about dried-up creative juices. For a long time, I've been feeling these conflicting tugs and pulls from different directions. Academics. Work. Yoga. Photography. Art. Well, it's not that they're mutually exclusive. One just has to take priority over the other at different times. For the past year, it's been Academics. Writing has been focused on research, not journaling. For a while my camera was gathering dust. But these are the choices I've made, and I'm standing by them.

As can be expected, I have not been doing much photography lately, and have been somewhat disappointed in my recent attempts.

Almost instinctively, I picked up my copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke. I leafed through the dog-eared pages, revisited pages I've marked, words I've underlined. I came back to this:

"To allow every impression and every germ of a feeling to grow to completion wholly in yourself, in the darkness, in the unutterable, unconscious, inaccessible to your own understanding, and to await with deep humility and patience the hour of birth of a new clarity: that alone what living as an artist means: in understanding as in creation.

To be an artist means: not to reckon and count; to ripen like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of Spring without fear lest no Summer might come after. It does come. But it comes only to the patient ones, who are there as if eternity lay in front of them, so unconcernedly still and far. I am learning it daily, learning it through pains to which I am grateful: patience is all!"

It does come.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Avgolemono - Greek egg and lemon soup.... but without the egg

.... and without the chicken.

Honestly, most of the time I don't really miss eating meat much. But I would be lying if I told you that I didn't miss it at all. I grew up as an omni, after all. Back home, we are known for eating everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

It's been rainy here in Kent, and the weather called for soup. Avgolemono (which literally translates to "egg-lemon") is one of those dishes that I miss. It's a comforting, hearty soup that somewhat reminds me of congee. Both of these soups are chicken-based.

But I was craving. The last time I had Avgolemono was years ago, when I was still eating chicken. Being the compulsive cook that I am, I had to figure out a vegetarian version. I had to have it. So in the middle of reading a research article for school, I decided to just give it a shot. I know how I am; once I have a kitchen project in mind, I can't concentrate on other things until I do it.

This was the result of my project: (Loved it!)

(I have to apologize, this isn't the best photo... the lighting in my apartment isn't the best)

olive oil for sauteeing
1/2 an onion, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 a leek, sliced thinly
1 small carrot, diced
1 quart no-chicken broth
2 cups of water
1/4-1/2 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 cup plain/unsweetened soymilk or other non-dairy milk
2 tbsp tapioca powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
juice and zest from l lemon (about a quarter cup of lemon juice, more or less)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp dried dill
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
good quality extra-virgin olive oil for swirling on top... just because I love EV olive oil, especially this one :)

Ingredient notes:
- You could probably just omit the shallots and the leeks, and just use onions...but I had them on hand.
- I don't think Avgolemono really calls for carrots... but I had one, so I used it anyway.
- You can use regular vegetable broth. I've never used the "no-chicken" broth because it was higher in sodium... but I thought I would give it a try in this recipe.
Nutritional yeast is available in the bulk section at Whole Foods or your local natural foods store.
You can also use cornstarch, instead of tapioca powder, but the latter is what I had on hand.

1. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, and carrot and saute until soft.
2. Add the broth and water, then the rice. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmering. Allow the rice to cook, about 20-25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, warm the soymilk or non-dairy milk in the microwave. Whisk in the tapioca powder or cornstarch and the turmeric, then set aside.
4. When the rice is cooked, mix the soymilk and tapioca again (the powder tends to settle on the bottom), then stir into the soup to allow the soup to thicken.
5. Let the soup simmer, then add the lemon juice and zest. Season with salt and pepper. Add the herbs, but set aside a little bit for garnishing in invididual bowls.
6. Ladle the soup into bowls, then swirl the EV olive oil and sprinkle more herbs on top.

Recipe adapted from this blog, but with my own tweaking :)

As a side note... I miss my mom's Hainanese Chicken Rice. Now THAT would be a vegetarian challenge.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

change, growth, new beginnings, and all that good stuff


I finally made it to Kent State University. After a long 3 months of stress-cooking, non-sleeping, and nail-biting, waiting for the approval for my change of status (student visa) with the CIS.

So I can only say, THANK YOU. To the higher power and universal energy that presents wonderful opportunities such as this one. To my awesome family and dear friends who supported me throughout my time of reflecting, thinking, and decision-making (complete with the Excel spreadsheet of pros and cons and the point system - thanks, Dad), and The Big Move (you know who you are). To those I called on the phone at odd times of the day so that I could cry and release my stress.

It's been a couple of weeks now and I'm slowly getting settled in... it's an adjustment at first, but I know this will be good. Even if this wasn't an easy decision, perhaps I always knew in my gut that this IS a good decision. This was the answer to the unrest I was feeling in my previous situation. Change is hard, but Change is necessary, when you need room to grow.

But leaving is always bittersweet. Cincinnati has been home to me for 6 years! I have come to know and love the city. For its old charm. Its art. Its best-kept secrets. The little pockets of places with a strong local vibe and increasingly-progressive thinking. And most of all, for its people...people I have built wonderful friendships with. Warm, generous people who have "adopted" me as their daughter, their sister. THANK YOU.

I read this quote in a photographer's blog:
We leave small pieces of ourselves everywhere we go, but take so much in exchange along with us, to keep us warm, to keep us amazed, and growing. Change is a blessing. It reminds me, always, of the uncanny ability of this universe to keep surprising me.
- Vincent Mounier

So many choices, so many opportunities. Places to see, people to meet, flavors to smell and taste. Challenges to experience and overcome. Things to dream about. Moments to live with wonder and amazement. To all that, I say YES.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

centering during chaos

Taken in Eden Park, Cincinnati

I am grounded.
I am centered.
I am at peace with myself.
Everything about me breathes the calm and peace of the soul.

"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart."
- Unknown

Just little reminders for myself during these stressful times. Hope it helps some of you out there too.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

courage for new beginnings

I recently saw the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I couldn't help but be moved by this letter, written by the main character, for his daughter:

"For what it's worth, it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be...You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

the warmth of a friend's home...and an autumn recipe

A group of friends and I had a party recently to celebrate a couple's engagement. Here are some photos... looking at them, I can almost smell the hot mulled apple cider which I made for that party. Recipe follows...

EB chopping lettuce for the salad.
She was the mastermind behind the lovely Turkish dinner.

homemade bread by RZ

more bread by RZ

RZ's kitchen stuff

...and a cute little Valentine hanging in the kitchen.

Mulled Apple Cider
1 gallon fresh apple cider
a generous slosh of apple brandy (I used applejack) - optional
1 orange, thinly sliced
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg, broken into pieces (you can break it with a rolling pin or some other heavy tool)
a few whole cloves... about 5 or 6 maybe
whole allspice berries... a generous pinch
* You can also use store-bought pre-mixed mulling spices, but whole spices are always more fun. :)

Put everything in a slow cooker and let simmer for a few hours. You can also use a large pot and let it simmer on the stove. It makes the house smell wonderful. Enjoy!

Thank you, RZ, for always welcoming us in your cozy home. Your kitchen always brings friends together and creates fond memories. Congratulations to you and N!

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tired but inspired

Here's an affirmation/meditation I got from a recent retreat:

"Never forget. You are here to be the very best you can be, to learn the most you can learn, to evolve your soul to the fullest extent possible within this lifetime."

Aaaahhhh... just what I need to regain a little bit more energy and get through my study day. "Evolve your soul." I like that.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

yoga and writing workshop

For a few weeks now I had been looking for something to do to nurture my creativity, which has taken a backseat to work and academics for quite some time. I had been feeling quite disappointed in my dried-up creative juices. I needed something to take care of ME, but I didn't know what exactly. I knew I didn't have the time to commit to a weekend-long retreat or a vacation. I would just end up feeling guilty and stressing about all the other things I need to be doing, so I knew that wouldn't work. I wanted something that was short but sweet. Something that made me feel like I was going "away", but close enough that I didn't have to drive too far. I wanted an intimate setting with not a lot of people. So I knew what I DIDN'T want.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up an issue of Natural Awakenings and found an article about an upcoming "Yoga and Writing Workshop". I was intrigued.

It sounded like just what I needed. Four hours long, less than a half hour drive away. Something that integrated body, mind, and spirit. A little yoga, a little meditation and reflection, and writing! I signed up that very same day. It's amazing how God/Spirit/the universe provides.

I was so glad I went! It was a beautiful fall day. The workshop was held in a quiet old building surrounded by trees. I intentionally got there early to take a walk on the grounds. Came across a weathered, wooden wildflowers growing amidst a sea of fallen leaves... My feet sinking into the soft earth.

I stretched, breathed, wrote, and listened. I listened to my body, my breath, my thoughts. And I listened to others. We listened to each other. Fifteen strangers in a room, being present in our bodies and minds, writing, and sharing little pieces of ourselves through the written word. We all wrote, wrote, and wrote some more, in a safe space.

I realize how much writing and art enrich my life. I always wish I could do it more. I know I have realigned my priorities for the next few years until I have the letters "Ph.D." after my name. But I have to find ways to receive and take part in small doses of art every now and then. I feel much more balanced because of it.

Here is one of the poems we reflected/meditated on:

The Healing Time

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that sent me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy holy

- Pesha Gertler

For more information about writing workshops, click here.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

wisdom from a 6-year-old

I was listening to the radio this morning (I think it was 90.1 FM) and the host was talking about this story of a 6-year-old whose dog died recently. The 6-year-old said (I'm paraphrasing here) that life is about learning to love and being nice. So the dog died because he already knew how to do that, so he didn't have to live very long.

How profound is that?

Thought I'd just share this photo of my nephew from an afternoon at the Children's Museum, one or two summers ago... he was in the "animal hospital" play area. :)

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

meditation amidst the "crazy-busyness"

North Carolina Arboretum
Asheville, NC

"Let us not dash, but whisper through."
- Tony L. Arrasmith, 2007

(read this quote by a photographer at a recent art show at this place)

A few weekends ago I decided to go out and take photographs. My poor camera had been neglected for weeks. One perfectly crisp and cool fall day, I went for a nice solitary walk in a nearby park, then went to the Krohn Conservatory to see the orchid show/sale. I took LOTS of pictures.

Sadly, I felt disappointed and frustrated. Typically, taking photos puts me in that centering, meditative mode. But I wasn't feeling it that day. None of the photos I took really stood out for me. And I was taking photos of my favorite subject - botanicals! I reviewed the photos again, but none of them spoke to me. What was wrong? I had great natural lighting in that place; it was fairly early in the day, so it was not too busy and distracting. Yet I didn't really LIKE any of the photos. They were just.... ok. So-so.

"Let us not dash, but whisper through."

Maybe that was it.

Some things in life cannot be hurried. Some things are nurtured through long pauses. Some things grow and take root in slow-ness, in gentleness.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

a plea

This weekend, one of the worst storms ever to hit Manila (the capital city in my country, the Philippines) dumped a month's worth of rainfall in just 6 hours. Dozens have been killed, houses and vehicles have been submerged, and many are left without electricity and running water.

Read more here.

Thankfully, the town where my parents and family live was not too badly affected, though people we know have been stranded on the streets and rooftops.

Please say a prayer/set an intention/send out positive thoughts and positive energy to the victims of this disaster.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

September skies

There is nothing as refreshing as the colors of nature... especially the varying shades of green against a perfect blue sky.

"Breathing in, I am aware of the blue sky.
Breathing out, I smile to the blue sky."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

favorite things

The different forms of therapy, at least in my world:

and taking a different perspective.

A long walk.

The sound of water.

(or better yet, being in the water... but I'll be content with just listening to the sound of it for now)

A quiet reading corner.


(A musician playing the hammered dulcimer at a street art festival in Asheville, NC)

Random affirmations.

And of course, chocolate... in various forms.

Truffles from my favorite chocolate place, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Asheville, NC.

(take note of the little card that reads: "a sacred space for chocophiles".)

Liquid truffle - an insanely good hot chocolate - from the same chocolate heaven, French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

(don't forget the shortbread for dipping)

Gelato cake from Dojo Gelato, Cincinnati

(Chocolate cake base from Take the Cake, chocolate gelato, and Kahlua-spiked cream.)

I feel better already.

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