I find it difficult not to reflect on the pain in the world, at present. How do we center ourselves in the face of such hurt? Well, here I go again touting the benefits of mindful thinking and about my outlook on life. These are some common question that I ask myself. Am I practicing gratitude? Am I practicing stewardship of the land, water, language, and preserving other parts of the natural world? I do realize that when we navigate in environments of poverty, exclusions, marginalizations, and living in the fringes, it becomes a great challenge to have gratitude for much of anything. But, what if we looked inside for what is going well for us? Are we able to stop for a minute and think about for what we can be grateful?
I know. Digging through your mind in the midst of conflict, deep emotions, and sadness may be the worst time to gather positive reflections. I do know that it works, however. My practice, which now is a habit, has been part of my life these past four months. Yes. I am facing some great life challenges, and I can tell you that focusing on gratitude and daily affirmations works! Challenges become navigable.
I find that nature offers the best self-care, meditative, and gratitude-giving opportunities. My sweet cousin, Bianka, a war veteran who now spends much of her time bike racing on BMX tracks with her twin brother, also a military veteran, who builds racing bikes, like his father did, now works to perfect her photography skills. That’s her hummingbird picture. It gave me time to stop to appreicate the delicate body, the exquisite little feet, the striations on the neck, and the moment in time when Bianka got this perfect photo of the little bird hovering near the sugar water feeder. When we take that time to appreciate the perfect details of the natural world, we begin to offer gratitude for what some may think of as mundane, but it helps us to be thankful for what we may think of as insignificant details of the world. Also, when we take time to offer thanks for the small things, it helps us to slow down from busy lives and be in a moment with ourselves. Try it.
Consider camping as an outdoor activity where you get to interact with the natural world. Camping is one of my favorite pasttimes. It’s a time when I just allow myself to do nothing but breathe in the clean air, listen to the birds and other flying, loping, crawling, or jumping lives of the natural world.
My dear friend, Kelly, recently, acquired a flock of chickens to raise in his and his lovely wife’s backyard. Kelly told me about raising chickens, “It is therapeutic for me and I have peace when I am around them! I know they are just chickens to most people and is not a big deal, but I almost can’t put into words the joy these animals bring to me! I want many more, and one day, I will have chickens galore will be our theme!” I cannot imagine a flock of chickens being in more gentle hands!
Kelly went on to say, “I think the older you get the more you see the benefit of working to live and not living to work! We are in a world that is so disconnected from the natural things around us that we forget the incredible inner peace found in nature! We have lost the fact that nature is our kin and we have neglected that relationship.” Those are words that we Indigenous People live by, and those words coming from my dear friend Kelly mean the world to me.
I will end with a few of my daily affirmations that come from those around me who inspire me to improve:
I am curious to know something about everything and everything about something
I am thankful for…
I am courageous
I am living a great life
I am interested in everyone I meet (from my Dad)
I am valuable
I have wonderful friends who enrich my life
I learn great lessons from my loved ones
Today, I will learn something new
There are more, but I leave you with this great picture of a friendly kiss from Heidi, a dog who belongs to a business associate of my son.
My featured image shows a doe and her fawn. When I took this picture, the fawn was about three days old. The doe gave birth in my day lily bed, and she parked her baby next to the house under a ladder. Now, two weeks later, the fawn has taken up residence in my front patio. Apparently, the doe comes at night to feed the baby and graze in the yard, a bit. We stay quite aware of the little guy’s presence and work very hard not to disturb. Also, as the Star Trek “prime directive” states, “Do not interfere in a life to change its course.” Hard as that is, I continue to worry that the doe will not return to nurse the fawn, but they have the instincts for survival and do what they need to do to survive as long as there is no human intervention.
What do you do to advance self-love? Many have been socialized to believe that self-love is selfish and wrong! That is likely a Puritan ideal, which very much permeates the dominant culture in the U.S. (Settler/Colonial culture). I’m not sure if there has ever a spiritual leader who’s asked us to hate ourselves. Of course, there are many political people, who call themselves “leaders,” who tell us quite often to dislike, hate, or exclude others who are considered “different.” I am happy to ignore them in this writing. What I do mean is that when we love ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to hate others, because true self-love helps us to love others even when they are not like us.
My point today is that unconditional self-love helps us to survive many things and may even be a support when tragedy strikes, such as recent school, church, and hospital shootings. Some of my past blog posts consist of other details in self-care, such as the Art of Hygge, cooking/baking, entertaining in your friend-circles, interactions in the natural world, and other activities in which we can engage to keep us from brain wiring and emotions ryfe with trauma.
Trauma does terrible things to emotional and physical health and well-being. All of us have likely experienced some form of trauma in our lives. That may mean that we spend many hours of our lives finding coping mechanisms and acquiring coping skills. We soon realize that coping/navigating skills are a life-long learning and behavioral journies. We do not take “training” and then we finish. Check box! No. Practicing self-love takes a life time. The key word is “practice” with the idea of not attaining “perfection!” I do think self-love is a choice, and I think when we have suffered adverse childhood experiences and forms of adult trauma, we tend to loose site of our abilities to choose a positive outlook. I do know that some have brain chemistry that can “hi-jack” that choice to have a positive outlook. Those instances require that we exercise great understanding and empathy.
Not too long ago, I interviewed a man from Kerala, India. He’s a mathematics teacher at a high school. Mr. K has lived in the U.S. for many years. He and his lovely wife “R” have raised two beautiful daughers. This family has the most positive outlook on life of any people I know! Mr. K takes his family on excursions to visit all of the National Parks in the U.S. They know their geography very well! During the interview, Mr. K said, “You know. The world is so beautiful. The people are beautiful. The landscapes are beautiful. I believe the world is so beautiful.” It was at that moment that I realized that Mr. K lives a life of positive thinking and he will always see the best in people, in nature, and in his relationships, because he chooses to see his life that same way. I see this attitude reflected in his daughers and in his spouse, too. Mr. K models and eminates self-love and the love of others. It sounds like a simple, wonderful, and balanced way to live.
I work on the concept of balance every day. The practice comes in the form of morning affirmations, yoga stretching, and fresh air. I end my day with more affirmations and the hopes of a adequate sleep. Getting adequate sleep and staying positive throughout the day tend to be my greatest challenges. The world is hurting, and I navigate institutional inequities on a daily basis. My hope continues to be that we may strive toward a positive outlook on life, so that we may be a beacon of light in this world and its pain.
Thank you for reading my blog. Next time, I’ll write about food.
The hounds of winter (Sting) linger where I live. The north winds blow the warmth from a seemingly sunny day, and the chill cuts to the bone. Relief from the grind of work comes from gathering with friends, family around the table enjoying a slow meal featuring a nice glass of wine.
Since the holidays of winter my joy continues to be hosting family and friends. While conversations and food go hand-in-hand, I find the loving preparation of a meal to be an intense form of love, because I want it just right! Here, I offer some highlights from varying meals along the way, with pictures of food and company.
2021 proved to be a wonderful year for riding the train. In November, we boarded the California Zephr to Salt Lake City. We stopped in Grand Junction Colorado after passing through 31 tunnels in the Rocky Mountain from Denver. My 92 year old mother and her 84 year old husband boarded in Grand Junction. My mother had not ridden the Amtrak until this point. We had roomettes, so the meals were included, and the Amtrak works hard at assuring a great dining experience. Dinners come with a glass of wine, white linen table cloths, and the tables always feature a red rose in a silver vase. I love riding the train. It appears to be the one time that I allow myself to sit and do nothing but watch the world go by. Here, I share some lovely highlights from the trip. We arrived in SLC at midnight and departed for home a few days later at 3:00 a.m.
Early in January, we set out on the train to head to our friends in West New York. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief travels from Los Angeles to Maryland in its entirety. We boarded in Kansas City, MO, and it took us to Chicago for a five-hour layover, which afords the travelers some time for sightseeing in Chicago. Though, its Union Station provides some great history and a lovely environment. The lounges provide quiet or busy areas to relax with snacks and beverages.
I’ve read train reviews by a younger set of riders who appear to be in a hurry and are grumpy about less than perfect accomodations. Like a slow meal that one savors, I find train travel to be a time to savor. Why be in a hurry? I find it a great time to sit back, enjoy the passing scenery, eat lovely meals, and get in some reading or napping. Try it sometime. The life in a cozy roomette is like a gentle hug.
Back to the layover in Chicago. With the lake affect chills, we found it difficult to roam the city, so we made our way to a close restaurant to have a little bite to eat.
Sorry. I can’t seem to make the pictures smaller.
As we made our way to see our friends, we waited until 9:00 p.m. to board the next leg of the trip. We arrived in Erie, PA at 7:00 a.m., and we traveled 45 minutes to the cottage on the frozen lake. How wonderfully delightful that was. After a nice breakfast, we set out snowshowing on the lake frozen so deeply that it serves as a winter paradise of ice fishing.
We enjoyed a delightful time with our friends, with whom we’ve traveled to Alaska, the Gulf Coast, to Puerta Vallerta, and on many camping trips together. I love these friends.
Well, I could go on and on, but I will leave you with a lovely picture of happy hour at 20 degrees Farenheit. Thank you for reading my blog.
When we think of a year that’s passed, it can be a good time to reflect on the past and to look forward in a new year. We can think about the good things that happened and contemplate any of the negative happenings. Of course, it does not serve us well to focus on our misfortunes, mistakes, losses, and other events that made a negative impact. However, it could serve well to give each of those challenges their due. I want to spend this space for reflecting on the year past and looking forward to year unfolding before us. Every year, I learn something new, and I give myself grace when I come up short. I will share some things I’ve learned and ask you to reflect on your life as well.
Reflecting on events of the past takes a Mindfulness approach. In the process, be a neutral observer. Think about what gave such an event a positive or negative impact. Notice how the event or interaction elicited emotions. How was that emotion navigated, or what was the response? The point in this reflection is to remind ourselves to be 1) a neutral observer to each experience, 2) Be patient with yourself: allow each experience to emerge at its own pace, 3) Have a “beginner’s mind” by experiencing the memory as if for the first time, 4) Trust and believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way, 5) Take it as it comes without the need to win or avoid losing. At this points, just be; 6) Accept and see things as they are in the present moment; 7) Let go and detach from your usuall feelings and thoughts. Perhaps this is a way for us to slow down for a moment to recharge our senses.
I’ve written about the “art of hygge.” Hygge is that danish word (Hoo-gah) that denotes comfort at the point of being cozy. Think of a hug! We get to decide on the characteristics of that hug. When the danish speak of hygge, they outline all the situations in which one can practice that coziness: our living spaces, our work spaces, and in outdoor spaces. I have designed my “living room” as a hygge corner.
Another way of practicing that sense of being hugged, is looking to the outdoors for rest and relaxation. Viewing nature as if for the first time can be exhilirating! Perhaps asking oneself, “Which season do I like best? Why?” I like to notice what birds are active in which season? For example, I’m seeing more juncos during the winter than in the summer. We see snow geese in the winter but not summer! Those are changes that are only noticed when one looks up or notices changes in nature. It such a thing is new to you, try it sometime. As another example, in the photo, one could ask, “Why is the sunset so red?” The answer: Dust and smoke in the atmosphere from fires and wind (in many cases).
In a busy world where we are measured by how much we do, how much money we earn, and how we stand out as individuals (an individualistic society). I wonder if we would have less illness if we emulated that of a collective society (group oriented) and took the time to sit and talk, build relationships, and take more collective actions when it comes to governance. The concept of hygge supports that very thing, as does the Mediterranean way of conviviality. So what if we took three hours to consume our meals conversing around the table? Our lives would slow down, and we would take more time for ourselves and our loved one. I love the concept of “hygge with others,” which focuses on our relationships. While we have fewer opportunities to gether during this pandemic, and we’ve had to find new and different ways to connect with people, such as with on line platforms. When I think of “hygge” with others, I tend to think of gathering around meals. Sometimes it may be connecting through interest groups. Sometimes we attend a movie group, which meets online after participants watch the movie on their own. That is one way of connecting during a pandemic time. The meet up consists of questions by the facilitator. We found common themes through which we connected. A few years back, in a town where we spend nearly thirty years, we used to attend what we called, “Second Friday Cinema” at our local library. We picked nine movies for each of the months we met from September through May. We watched the movie together enjoying snack that each of us offered on a table. Unfortunately, that has gone away per safety measures. I miss those time, so I will share some photos of former gatherings and ways of enjoying our environments.
Setting a goal of practicing holistic well-being does take some discipline. For example, I made a pledge to myself to keep my house organized and free of clutter. That takes a lot of work! It seems that we get so involved in making a living, being a good employee, and meeting institutional goals that we forget to take care of ourselves. Now, all this sounds like I’m an expert at such things, I do teach about holistic well-being, but that means that I practice such things, and “practice makes perfect” as the saying goes. That’s the best we can do, and our best needs to be enough for us. That does not mean that we’ve reached a pinnacle. It’s just means that we keep trying. I saw a quote on practice the other day. The gist of it was that someone had asked the great cellist, Pablo Casals about his daily practicing at the age of 90 years. “After a stellar career and now at the age of 90, why do you practice the cello for the minimum of six hours per day?” Casals answered, “Because I think I am seeing progress.” Humans are not perfect. We work toward perfects, but perhaps too much, I wonder? I want to be the best for the world not the best in the world!
As one who identifies as Indigenous, the latest findings of Indigenous children’s marked and unmarked graves on the grounds of Native Boarding Schools across Canada and the United States abhors me, which can feed into generational wounds. Lately, I have been invited to offer lectures on the topic. Here I share with you some of my reflections as presented to church groups. Remember, I only speak with my Indigenous relatives. I do not speak for all Indigenous Peoples.
Residential Boarding Schools: We must acknowledge what happened to the First People of these Lands at the hands of Colonial Settlers
To all my Relations…
Following in the ways of loving one another, as any faith journey tells us to do, gives us a framework for our way of life. Our works of truth and reconciliation must mirror that. Like baptism, we must face the truths of our past, even when they give us discomfort. When we learn some painful truths, we must reflect on those truths rather than deny, wallow in guilt or point fingers. The painful actions of history belong to all of us… together. Again, the painful actions of history belong to all of us. I say that as one who is Indigenous to these lands to which I acknowledge: My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley, Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute). My Mother’s people experienced the same atrocities in their homeland of what is now, New Mexico. In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa of Kansas and Nebraska, and the Sac and Fox Nations.
I am grateful to these Nations. I ask you to Please remember these truths
Today, we take this opportunity, no matter who we are, and no matter from whom we descend, to face the pain of the past, to confess it, and above all, to learn from it and not repeat it. To tell the truth in love, as our Creator teaches, gives us pause to learn love’s excellent way of life and way of being.
What are the ways in which we can behave in actionable ways to follow the path of love rather than hate, rather than ignoring inhumanities, rather than justifying slavery and other exclusions and turning away from the practice of human hierarchies? We must recognize and acknowledge the wounds of Indigenous Peoples promulgated by governments, churches, and other institutions that join in the cause of separation and erasure. Then we must remove the barriers to access for all historically excluded identities. Only love, honor, and respect can dwell in the Creator’s presence, and we must join our hearts and hands to rebuild our communities of faith.
Let us move away from mere performance to authentic and measurable actions toward an equitable society where we honor and love one another as the Creator loves us.
In reflection, what makes me hopeful today are the Indigenous youth who are learning the spiritual teachings and the folkways of our ancestors. We promote generational healing through prayer and acknowledgement that we only survive in the light and love of our Creator and through the support of one another. When this society begins to acknowledge the truths that segregation, torture, abuse, and separation of Indigenous children is, by design, meant to erase a people not love them, the healing will begin.
Please note that of the 367 Native boarding schools in the U.S. 73 remain open, and 15 continue to board Indigenous children taken from their parents. Here in Kansas, we must acknowledge the following boarding schools and the atrocities fraught upon Native children: Haskell Indian Training School (now Haskell University), Great Nemaha Indian School, Kaw Manual Labor School, Kickapoo Labor School, Osage Manual Labor School, Potawatomi Labor School, and the Shawnee Mission boarding school. The goals of these schools promised to “take the Indian out of the boy or girl.” Graduation was never a goal, however survival remained a wish for the children. Again, The children who were able to leave these schools did not graduate! They survived!
We cannot heal in the places that make us sick. We can only heal, if the society complicit in Indigenous extermination can move away from greed and the concepts of superiority in order to teach a people that they are, indeed, inferior. I am hopeful because I am here today, with each of you, lamenting the wrongs of the past by governments and other institutions who do not follow the teachings of the Creator to “Love one another.” I ask you, How is genocide of a people, Love? How are exclusionary laws and policies, Love? How is justifying slavery, love?
Rev. Linda Nicholls and Rev. Mark Macdonald note that:
“The wrenching legacy of residential schools is felt not only by those who survived. It lingers in the pain of families whose children died while at school. It lingers in the agony of not knowing why they died or where they are buried. It lingers in the inadequate record-keeping that does not tell the cause of death. It lingers in the neglect to even record the names of almost one-third of those who died. For a parent the death of a child is an unimaginable pain.”
I ask you to empathize with the parents. Can you imagine such a thing to happen to you and your family?
I work at a university with a leadership studies college. The school invites varying faculty, staff, and administration to talk about personal priorities and interests. As I always say, the more we know about one another, the more that the lines of separation fade. I love this notion of inviting people to talk about themselves. It becomes the living libraries favored by many communities. Here is one of my stories.
My father used to tell me, “Know something about everything and everything about something, and you will always be able to find common ground with another person.” I have a penchant for music, literature, geography, history, art, language, biology, architecture, travel, navigation in air travel, and people. Curiosity was the most important thing to my father. He taught me to be curious, always! Actually, I think my varied interests greatly inform my work in intercultural development, or helping humans find common ground with one another. It’s what I live. It’s what I love. I like to begin my classes, workshops, and presentations with a land acknowledgment:
My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley in Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute).
In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa, and the Sac and Fox Nations.
I am grateful to these Nations.
Please remember these truths.
It can be quite enlightening to research and discover what Indigenous Nation occupied the land on which you live, work, and play. We can think about:
Who granted the land?
Who held the land previously?
What was the U.S. Homestead Act of May 1862? Who was given land, and who was removed from said land?
So, I begin all my teaching with this acknowledgment. I am honored and obligated to my ancestors to do it.
Next in my processes of teaching, I acknowledge myself and my identities. Here are a few of the things with which I identify:
•Native (Ohkay Owingeh/Diné/ Uncompahgré) •Human Ecologist/Geographer •National Geographic Society Explorer •Social Researcher •Banjo player •Mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, writer… •King Alfonso X enthusiast, the original pluralist! •Blogger •Craftsperson •Nature enthusiast.
I could also say, I’m a mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, and writer.
Embedded in each of these identities that I share with you denotes aspects of my of my culture. However, the most challenging part of working to educate students, especially those from a dominant identity (Anglo-European descent) about culture is that they possess a culture. Many of my students tell me, “I don’t really have a culture. I’m just an American.” That just tells me that they have not thought about their identities.
Each of us, if we think about it, has several identifying factors that contributes to our cultural identity. You have the same sets of identities – each with sets of verbiage, practices, and thought processes that are part of your culture.
Certainly, our environments influence our patterns of behavior, our ways of knowing, our ways of living. I grew up in a mountain environment, as pictured here. We learn certain behaviors to thrive in mountain valleys, which can be different than the tallgrass prairie where I live now. In humans’ cultural practices, we learn, adapt, and adopt, often maintaining our foundational family and community systems.
Prairie or mountains: both are beautiful, and we adapt and adopt the cultural aspects of each geography.
Speaking of geography, I grew up in a household where National Geographic magazine was honored as much as the family bible. My father read them from cover to cover. My brothers saw them as anatomy lessons. I vowed to visit all the places imaginable. My work with National Geographic Society, as an explorer, put me in company with the likes of Maria Mitchell, noted astronomer in the 19th Century, Munazza Alam, 21st century astrophysicist searching for Earth’s twin, Harriet Chalmers Adams, journalists in the French trenches of World War 1, and notably, traveled to Africa to see Haile Selassie’s coronation as emperor of Ethiopia. Of course, everyone knows the names of Edmund Hillary, Jacques Couteau, and Alexander Graham Bell as NGS explorers, but I encourage you to seek out the females who made great strides in the name of discovery. Being a NGS explorer is the greatest way I can honor my father’s love of knowledge.
Two of the great products of my NGS funding was developing introductory course in geography for females of color, now in its fifth year, also thanks to our Center for Engagement and Community Development’s incentive grants, I was able to study the women in the African diaspora in rural SW Kansas, which became a chapter in a book recently published. Here’s a picture of the book. My chapter covers the women of the African Diaspora now settled in Southwest Kansas. It tells of the brave women, displaced from their countries by war, worked in the beef packing plants while raising families and navigating health care, educational, and faith systems.
If you have read previous blog entries of mine, you would know that I greatly esteem George Washington Carver, the great genius in botany, invention, music, art, and philosophy.
Carver had a small homestead in Beeler, Kansas. As a child, his slave owners near Diamond, Missouri actually saw his genius in plant pathology. He came to Kansas, finished high school, and applied and was accepted into Highland college until he showed up. Carver was denied a college education in Kansas, because of teh color of his skin.
He found his academic home, first at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Only being allowed to study the fine arts, his art teacher took great interest in his botanical illustration. She connected Carver to her biologist husband who was teaching at what is now Iowa State University. Carver received is Master’s degree there where his brilliance was duly noted by Henry Ford, who had invited him to work since Carver had created rubber out of golden rod. Thomas Edison tried to recruit him as an inventor since Carver was noted as a great inventor, having patents on wood stains made from peanuts and sweet potatoes. Alas, he went to work at Tuskegee “Normal” Institute at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, because it was there that he’d “do the most good.” Carver taught chemistry, botany, and other biology at Tuskegee until his death. I found this picture on the internet with Carver’s rules to live by: “Education is the key to unlock the golden doors of freedom.”
Once a year, I pay homage to King Alfonso X, who ruled Castile-Leon (now Spain) in the 13th Century. Here are a few facts about the “Learned King.”
He ruled from1252 – 1284 13th C. Medieval – Father of Castilian language, which we now call Spanish. During his time, his language was Galician-Portuguese, also called “Romance”
420 songs, poems, and commissioned 3 dimensional pieces as a way to teach morality to his subjects.
He had just missed being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor because he was “too learned!” according to the Pope of the Catholic Church at the time. I wrote a blog better examining the King last November. No doubt, I will write another about the king in the coming fall.
I like learning about different species in the animal world. I was a volunteer teacher at a zoo in Southwest Kansas. If you want to learn more about a subject, teach it! I was able to handle lots of cool animals. Here I am with a goshawk.
Finally, exploring my Indigenous roots remains an important part of my identity. I still practice the food, the songs, and the rituals of my grandmothers. The fire featured as my main image illustrates one of those practices of cleansing with smoke. I am born for the Ohkay Owingeh and the Dine and born to the Uncompahgre Ute. I have DNA ties to the Athabascan, Alaskan Native. My people, called the San Juan Pueblo by Spanish colonizers of what is now New Mexico. Spaniard plopped right on the Village at the confluence of the Chama and the Rio Grande Rivers. Our villages straddled the rivers, so there was much struggle to keep our culture, our food ways, and our identities as The People of the Strong Land. You can see a stature of our great leader, Popay, in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Despite the push toward erasure, we are still here!
My family remains the most important, my children, grandchildren, spouse, parents, siblings, and extended family, natural and adopted, as I call my dear friends. Find what makes you happy, and develop curiosity about an array of subjects. For me, I can only think knowledge is the best brain food.
One of my gentle readers, thank you SLA, asked if I could show a picture of the San Juan Mountain Range as it’s viewed from my hometown. Can you imagine looking at that every day? Such an auspicious sight to behold. Though, this blog has nothing to do with this magnificent mountain range, it is part of who I am. Perhaps I shall engage some experts for another blog, my brother Lee and sister Eileen. For they climb these great “hills” just about every weekend. Yes. I was up on those ranges in my younger years with my brothers Dan and Lee, but I don’t get to there as often as I’d like. I live a long day’s drive from my hometown and there is no easy way to get there by plane. If you visit these lovely mountains, leave them better than you found it. They are a precious resource.
About two years ago, I wrote about a crazy prolific basil plant. This year, my garden has proven to be basil prolific. Plus, I have a few other herbs from which to create: rosemary and thyme, too. Of course, the obvious is, pesto. That wonderful mixture of basil, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, and a little salt and pepper.
This year, I decided to try other things such as OGB: Olive oil, garlic and basil, used for a bread dip. It goes into the freezer quite well. You may want to add just a touch of pepper flakes and a little salt to make it even more scrumptious.
Another way to preserve the basil, was to blend with olive oil for sauteing mussels or any other light fish. Just add garlic. Yes. It’s a bit different from pesto. It stays as green and fresh as the day you put it in. I froze one and refrigerated the other. I call it, “basil oil.”
Here is something new for me: Basil Rosemary Pesto. I give the ingredients without measurement, because I just put it together until it looked and smelled green and fragrant.
Large bunch of rinsed and drained fresh basil (three big hands full!)
About five long rosemary sprigs (pull the leaves off the stalk)
About 1 cup (236.59 mL) olive oil and a half cup (118.29 mL) sunflower oil
4 big cloves of garlic (I threw in about four small cloves of wild garlic, too!)
1 cup shelled pistachios (I didn’t have pine nuts)
10 juniper berries (from the Colorado juniper). Since I had no pine nuts, the juniper berries added that nice “piney” taste.
Parmesan Romano cheese to taste
For this batch, I added a small piece of a hot pepper from my garden just to add a bit of spice, but not too much! It freezes quite nicely, and I keep one in the refrigerator for a spoonful here and there in my cooking. Notice the little hot pepper in the upper right corner. It’s a hot little devil, so I only used a tiny bit.
So, you can use pesto as pizza sauce. Just spread it on your dough before you add the vegetables and/or the meats. It can be a subtle flavoring for a pot roast or chicken. It makes a wonderful spread on hot bread.
I think it’s a near perfect food. Basil is an antiviral. Olive oil is good for your “happy” fats. That’s how I remember that HDL is the good cholesterol. “Happy” is my mnemonic for the “good” cholesterol. Parmesan and the nuts are a good source of protein. Garlic is said to be a vasodilator. There you have it. Pesto is a great food!
Finally, I leave you with one of the dishes made this week with my pesto. It’s a simple vegetable pizza. I used a fresh tomato paste (simmered with garlic until thick) and pesto as the base for the cheese and vegetables. It was yummy with a glass of cabernet sauvignon. Thank you for reading.
My featured image is my sister and brother-in-law’s backyard. They have the pleasure of enjoying a splendid view of the San Juan Mountain Range every evening as they wind down from a day’s work. I’ll tell you about our fun meal a little later in the post.
Social distancing surely interferes with many things, but I’d rather be safe and healthy. Also, writing about fun things does not mean that I am not feeling the pain of my community and the world right now. I’ve been working from home since March 16, 2020. I am doing quite well working from home. I sit at my desk. I teach virtual classes. I meet in project committees. When the workday is finished, I create new recipes. I modify recipes from magazines. I tend to my garden. I clean the house, but not as often as when I entertain, which is none right now.
About a week ago, we ventured out to my home state (Colorado) and enjoyed mother nature with my 90 year old mother, my brothers and sisters, cousins, and nieces and nephews. We were quite aware of keeping our distances, too.
Colorado is a lovely state, but it has been over-run by people who come, in droves, to enjoy its beauty. Dare I say that the landscape continues to change from the caravans of cars, trucks, off-road vehicles, and hoards of people. Some of them respect the natural beauty, and some just run over it. I suppose we enjoy at whatever capacity we allow ourselves.
We talked, hiked, cooked, ate, drank, built fires, told stories, laughed, and looked for places to gather wood. We grew up in these mountains, and our Father taught us to love the land, though his people were displaced from it and onto reservations so that settlers could have the lands. (A nasty part of U.S. American history).
We camped for four days. Then we returned to the valley. I worked, distantly, and had time for visits in the evening. I was in Mountain Time, but had to continue to orient myself to Central Time, as that was my work day times.
My mother likes to do all the cooking when we visit, but I had so much food from the camping menus, that never was prepared, because everyone else brought food for as many days. So, one night I prepared a, sort of, taco salad that featured ground beef, Fritos, salad mixes, and Catalina dressing. In spite of a weird sounding combination, it remains to be a tasty dish. I think I got the recipe from some Mormon women back in the 1980s. We did have an important celebration, however.
My mother turned 90 on June 7, but we were all unsure of gathering. Though we were greatly cautious, we did celebrate with lunch-time mimosas. My friend, Mirta, sent a giant bottle of sparkling wine, and we had some good orange juice. Here’s my Mother:
As I was beginning to assemble the mimosas (orange juice and sparkling wine), I was aiming to make each one in each flute separately. My sis said, “Mix them in this crystal pitcher!” That sounded great! Who knew that one should not stir the mixture! Well, it all bubbled over, and the countertop was awash in mimosa! Anyone else’s countertop would be questionable about cleaning it up from there, but mother is immaculate! While I think this is an embarrassing photo, you deserve full disclosure! My husband took the shot of us “cleaning” up the mess. Undoubtedly, a blow to my credibility!
We consumed the mimosas with cheese, grapes, and bread – a most satisfying “lunch!”
As previously mentioned, my sis has an incredible backyard. She and hubby invited us to a lovely dinner of chicken wraps. Her hubby grilled skinless chicken breast, and then she had sliced them into strips. She presented a vegetable course of avocado, arugula, shredded carrots, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and thinly sliced cucumbers. We wrapped the chicken and vegetables in a tortillas, and consumed great quantities. She accompanied it with white wine. I forgot to take picture. We gathered, again, the next night for a Charcuterie, one of my favorite ways to eat!
We knew this charcuterie/cheese board needed to be good, because my mother is a picky eater. She does love snack-type foods, though. Here we have the menu:
I know I’ve written about similar menus previously, but I love the beauty of combining the color and flavors of these foods. For example, about 10 years ago, we ate in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco. On the menu: Sicilian Candy. What is that, you ask?
Take a small baking dish. I prefer cast iron for this. Place garlic cloves, butter, and olive oil and bake, covered with aluminum foil, until the house if fragrant of the ingredients. I think it was about 50 minutes at 350 degrees (176.667 C). Covering it with the foil assures a slow bake without burning the butter. It spreads like butter on bread!
The rest of the menu is quite self-explanatory.
My sis added dried apricots, and mother added a delicious strawberry angel food cake. Fun was had by all, and we had red wine with the evening as we watch the sunset shadows play on the San Juan Mountain Range to the south. You would have loved the serenity. Thank you for reading.
Sometime last week, we set out to find some fungi, specifically morels. On on our way out we saw a neighbor leaving her house. She was headed to another friends to “pick up some mushrooms!” I asked if her friends had found morels! “No.” Well, we took a long walk tromping through the woods near our home. We returned home to find a brown paper grocery bag on the front door step partially filled with oyster mushrooms. I have a feeling my neighbor’s friend grows these at home. That sounds like something I’d like to do!
The cemetery that sits about one quarter mile from our house is a favorite place for us to walk. I found a nice patch of wild garlic, so I picked a small bunch (about 10 little shoots). I had those in my hand when when we found the bag containing the lovely fungus. I remembered that we had a rice cooker with a new batch of cooked rice, Also, I remembered that I had some chicken broth with little strands of chicken. That meant I had everything I needed to whip up a nice mushroom soup! I sauteed spring onions from the garden, rosemary from my window pot, celery, and the chopped mushrooms! The chicken broth, thawed from the freezer, added to the saute, made a most delicious soup. We poured the soup over rice. We added a crisp romaine salad with an Asian dressing.
1/4 c (59.15mL) sesame oil
1/4 cup (59.15mL) seasoned rice vinegar
Finely minced: garlic, spring onion, fresh ginger to taste. Add 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup and roasted, crushed sesame seeds. Shake well before using. It’s quite delicious and makes a simple romaine into something quite sublime. Actually, the lettuce is just a vehicle to get the dressing into your mouth, because it’s rude to drink salad dressing!
Two things are happening to us as we physical distance from community while working from home. I am experiencing less stress. I work longer hours, but those hours are not stressful, because I can step away to the garden, to the kitchen, or to a book to get a quick recharge. I am actually more productive at work, because I can do all my meetings and teaching virtually! It will be interesting to return to campus, physically.
Right now, I take great delight in getting my garden ready with sprouted seedlings I’ve begun in the house. This is my yard’s first garden in decades, I think. We have been in this house almost one year. The soil is heavy clay with lots of limestone deposits. We have a large populations of bunnies, woodchucks, squirrels, and deer in addition to multiple species of birds. I will have to write a blog submission on the great birds in my yard! With a garden, I get to spend lots of time in the kitchen creating dishes from the bounty. More about all that later. Here’s a picture of my embryonic garden.
Shortly after the Easter holiday, I wrote about our leg of lamb. Being only two in the household, we had leftover lamb. I cubed what was left of the lamb and stuck it in the freezer. I took it out this week. It made two more meals. The first evening, we had lamb tacos. I forgot to take a picture. Suffice it to say that I took half the thawed lamb from the freezer container, and placed it in the frying pan. Though I added no grease or oil, I did add green chili made from roasted Anaheim green chili peppers. They are a wonderfully, savory chili that is not hot. On a scale from one to 10, I’d put Anaheim at 2 or three. Though, I think they are being bred to be much hotter these days. It was a simple taco with a warmed corn tortilla, the meat, and the green chili. The tacos were great with a lime enhanced light beer.
The next night, we had lamb curry prepared with the other portion of the lamb. Here’s what I did, I think.
One quarter of a diced yellow onion
Three cloves minced garlic
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
I sauteed the first three ingredients in a mixture of sesame and sunflower oils
I added one can of stewed tomatoes with its liquid
I added a prepared curry powder and a spice mix my Ghanaian student brought from his home country for preparing Jollof Rice. That was the winning combination, though I may never be able to create this dish again. Of course, we served it over rice and ate it with naan bread prepared the night before.
Sometimes, we eat at the dining room table. Now that it’s warm, we eat outside on the deck. We may even consume our meals in front of the television with a movie. The most important thing is that we enjoy the food, and savor the convivial moments.
I hope you like my featured photo. I took it on my way home from Nebraska in 2017. We had traveled there to witness the total solar eclipse. Of course it was incredible, and luckily, the sun set that day with a spectacular view in Western Kansas.
I have a list of topics on which to write in my series of blog posts. One thing I thought of was the joy of camping. My Father used to take us camping when we were young. Of the seven children, all of us continue to enjoy nature and all it has to offer us. My best memories of camping with my father and siblings were the nature lessons on edible plants, astronomy, mushroom hunting, and fishing. Cooking what we caught and gathered was the best part, and eating all of the food we prepared was the bonus. My father used to sing to us while he cooked our camp meals. Today, our camp sites are a place for gathering (Pre-Corona Virus times), conversing, and enjoying each detail of the natural world around us.
My Father’s favorite and best meal was, “Sheepherder’s Delight.” Basically, it is a one-pan meal, and was cooked over an open fire. It was a favorite of Dad’s for camping trips since it was a staple meal for sheep herders who lived in the mountains of Colorado with during the summers, as was my Father’s life as a young boy. Today, when my family goes camping, we prepare the meal the way Dad did, but when we make it at home, we change it a bit. Here’s my Father’s recipe for Sheepherder’s Delight prepared in one large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven:
1 pound (0.45 kg) of bacon. Cook until crisp. Remove cooked bacon, and set aside. Cube two to four potatoes, depending on the number people that you will feed. Figure about one small potato per person or two people for a large potato. Place the potatoes in the hot bacon grease, and fry until soft with crisp edges.
Next, open a can of prepared baked beans, pork and beans, or beans in tomato sauce. Pour the beans over the potatoes, and add the cooked bacon. I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s best served after a hard day of hiking, fishing, mushroom hunting, or what ever you do to enjoy nature. We have a slightly different take on Sheepherder’s Delight when we’re at home. We change up the ingredients:
1 pound of ground beef (453.592g) I’m sorry if my metric measurements are not quite right. I look them up on the web for the conversions. Cook the ground beef with some diced onions, salt, and pepper.
Prepare the potatoes for oven baking. I cut mine into strips, and toss them with salt, pepper, some oil, and some malt vinegar. Bake the potatoes in an oven set at ~365 degrees Farenheit (185C). Bake until brown and crispy at the edges.
While the potatoes are baking, finish cooking the ground beef. Drain of any extra fat. Then you’re ready to add the canned baked beans, pork and beans, or with what you’re familiar. It should look like this.
Now, to assemble this wonderful comfort food, bring the potatoes out of the oven. Arrange some of the potatoes on your plate. Then serve the bean-meat mixture over the potatoes. We make this for camping trips. We use one pan by cooking the potatoes first. Set them aside while you cook the meat. Add the beans, and serve over the potatoes. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until I had but one bit remaining.
Another thing we do to enjoy nature is hike up to my Father’s fire circle. It’s in the same mountains of his childhood and that of his children, grandchildren, and the “Old Ones,” our ancestors. The Fire Circle is a place to drum and sing our songs, and honor our beloved ancestors. The hike to our sacred fire circle is about two miles from the main forest service road. We pass stands of quaking aspen trees, scrub oak, pinon pine, and Ponderosa pine trees. The fire circle overlooks a canyon where my people hid when the U.S. government was removing them from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 1800s. It is a very sad time in American history, that is not taught in the schools today. Here’s a glimpse of those lands. Our grandson enjoys his time there.
Speaking of “Indian Removal,” there is the reality that the people were moved away from their hunting and gathering grounds, so there was no way to raise their food. So the government provided commodities, food surpluses, which included white flour, powdered milk, lard, and a variety of canned meats and vegetables. The food was highly processed, and we can trace obesity and diabetes back to this down turn in our physical health and food sovereignty. Having only white flour, dry milk powder, and lard, fry-bread was born, out of necessity. Though it is a symbol of a bad time for my ancestors, we use it today to symbolize that we are resourceful, and we are still here! Here I am frying bread at my Father’s fire circle. My grand nephew was learning how to roll out the dough. It’s never too early to teach the “younguns” as my brother would say. He was the one hauling the cast iron Dutch oven up to the circle. The elevation is ~8,000-plus feet above sea level. The beauty contributes to the meditative state in which we find ourselves when we visit this place.
It was a good day to be alive and a good day to honor our ancestors while celebrating the children.