"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

clarity . . .


Some of us, as time goes by, care less and less about appearances, schedules and bypass things that annoy us. Why bother? Others, like me, have been working on coming to some kind of understanding about what has made me tick, or at least what has accounted for the movie script of my life.

Yesterday, I had a deep-tissue massage and both my massage therapist and I were surprised at how many knots she came across and worked out. I felt sore but really good afterwards. Then, I read some stuff online that I had been thinking about while drinking lots of water to work out all that lactic acid released from the fascia lining my muscles.

Then I went to bed.

This morning, I woke up with clarity. All the moving parts of the puzzle that have been my life clicked together at once. The Theme. Variations. Repeats. and finally, the Coda.  It all made so much sense. Understanding, for me at least, has provided clairvoyance in 3-D, no longer 2-dimensional facts or events in my life.

Clarity has helped me to finally turn the page and breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s complex. It all fits. Now, I really get it.

Time to move forward and enjoy my life!


bunnies! . . .

bunny cakes 2


Well, I think I’ve finally seen it all – as far as baking goes. Months ago, I was browsing through Williams Sonoma’s Easter catalog and came across a 6-bunny “cakelet” bundt pan. I laughed out loud when I saw it and was still chuckling to myself when I clicked the “buy” button. When it arrived, sure enough, there were six little bunny molds in various poses formed in one solid bundt cake pan by Nordic Ware.

The other day, I thought I’d do a trial run and make a box of yellow cake mix and experiment with food coloring to make different colored bunny cakes. They turned out all right but the biggest lesson learned was that I had filled up the batter too high which resulted in towering humps of cake that I trimmed off and around before harvesting the bunny cakes. They went out to neighboring family, all of whom enjoyed these little cakes.colored bunnies

Fortified with experience, I looked online for a chocolate cake recipe that had body and richness. After all, if these were meant to be enjoyed for Easter, why use a box cake mix? I came upon a chocolate sour cream bundt cake recipe that promised to be very rich and full of flavor. It also didn’t require using a mixer either which is a godsend because the portable mixer I have is extraordinarily awkward to use, even though it’s manufactured by Kitchenaid, the emperor of mixer manufacturers.

This recipe just calls for melting butter (kerrygold unsalted); unsweetened cocoa (Ghirardelli), water and salt. Let cool. Mix together dry ingredients: flour, organic sugar and baking soda. Add wet to dry ingredients and whisk together. Whisk in two extra-large eggs, one at a time. Whisk in a container of sour cream. Then add a teaspoon of vanilla.

That’s it. I filled up each opening three-fourths of the way to the top. Baked for 25 minutes until toothpick came out clean. They had still puffed up above the top of the pan but I thought they would settle down by the time they cooled. Fifteen minutes later, I put them upside down on a rack, whacked each one sharply with a stainless strainer spoon and holding my breath, I lifted the pan. They came out perfectly – shiny brown and as cute as could be!

My plan was to let them cool completely at room temperature and then to place them in heavy-duty freezer bags, two coved together in a bag. Then freeze them until they’re hard. Wrap them in bubble wrap and priority mail them to family in MPLS along with Easter basket for granddaughter, Josie. Ditto for my son-in-law to take down to his family on Easter. When they are defrosted, whip up some fresh cream and serve with a bowl of raspberries. Yum!

Ain’t that the berries? Er, ah, bunnies, I mean?


Before mailing the cakelets this morning, I made the bitter chocolate glaze that’s included in the recipe above. Heated up heavy cream, sugar until almost boiling; chopped up a bar of Lindt’s bittersweet chocolate, added light corn syrup and stirred the hot cream mixture into the chocolate to mix altogether. I confess I’m not that much of a chocolate aficionado but this glaze was out of this world! – very chocolatey but not too sweet. I packed a portion of it with each of the cakelet shipments to be warmed and drizzled over the cakes before serving. Hope it all travels well!




“teaching a kitten to bark” . . .


“Teaching a kitten to bark. . . ”  That’s how futile it is to try to change reality, I’m told.

What is, just is.

Including everything in the past that you wish hadn’t happened. In fact, if you believe in the Universe guiding our lives as I do, it turns out that there aren’t any “should haves” or “should not haves.” Everything that’s happened did and we can’t do anything about it. Karma translates to a “meant to be” that includes not only the good–but the bad and sometimes the very ugly. In Byron Katie’s words, it lies in “God’s Country.”

Sorry about that.

Apparently, the only thing we can do about it is to stop obsessing about it, feeling bad and wanting to “make things right.” All waste of time and energy. Nobody has that power so it’s no use waiting around for something like that to happen. How about that? What an amazing amount of time and spirit energy we could save, right? Too bad it took so long to really get this.

All we have power over is “our country” — that which is under our power to live out.

The other part of “what is, is” requires acknowledging that people are also the way that they just are, Including their values and how they behave. That’s their country, not ours.

Time to live large or go home!



newspaper delivery saga . . .

chemex coffeeEvery morning, my husband G. and I have a breakfast ritual. He takes out his cinnamon and raisin bread from Crown Bakery, makes a big pot of coffee, does his stretching exercises downstairs with his orange juice and brings upstairs the Telegram & Gazette newspaper (for him) and the New York Times newspaper (for me.) I, on my part, have a half glass of orange juice, make a bowl of oatmeal or cook two soft-boiled eggs that I eat with a dab of Chinese oyster sauce (like my Dad had for his breakfast.) Our breakfast ritual is characterized by contented silence eating our breakfasts, rustling the pages of our individual newspapers and drinking cups of hot coffee.

Everything was fine until a few months before the holidays. More often than not, G. returned upstairs empty-handed. Sometimes the newspaper (which was guaranteed to be delivered by 7:30 a.m.) didn’t arrive until after eight o’clock, or sometimes not at all. I don’t know about you, but a half an hour is a long time to wait before putting slices of cinnamon raisin bread into the toaster just so you could eat and read at the same time.

It was obvious that we had a new delivery person who just didn’t care much about delivering the paper on time. For over two months and despite entreaties in person to get better service, nothing much happened to get back to a schedule that allowed us to have our breakfast and read the newspaper together. Then, a new delivery person came on board and things improved a little, even managing to get by the snow plows and deliver the paper on snowy mornings in this almost-record snowfall winter of 2014-15 here in New England. Then things started getting erratic again and yesterday, no papers arrived at all. G. called the T&G circulation line only to be put on hold for ten minutes and then spoke to someone with a foreign accent, blase as could be and not caring at all about either the wait time for being put on hold, nor G.’s complaint about missing papers. It was frustrating.

So, mid-morning, sans newspapers, I looked online and perused the “Contact Us” page of the Telegram and Gazette website. I wrote to the Director of Circulation, copying three managers working under him, describing the history of spotty deliveries and voiced a final “cri de coeur” asking for help to restore our equanimity at breakfast with papers delivered on time.

At eight p.m. last night, G.’s phone rang and it was the Director of Circulation at the T & G., a fellow with the initials A.S. They spoke for a brief time, I could hear the word, “Manila,” in response to where the complaint-line operator originated from. He gave G. his phone number in case we had future problems and offered up a two-week free extension to G.’s subscription.

This morning as I walked into the kitchen, I asked G. if the papers had come. Silence. Then, he said that there were copies of the paper that weren’t delivered yesterday, today’s paper and an extra one of the Telegram and Gazette. Plus, yesterday’s copy of the New York Times newspaper that wasn’t delivered plus today’s copy. Five newspapers in all had landed on our doorstep and lay on our breakfast table this morning.

Later, I wrote a thank-you note to A.S. for calling G. last night and for the newspapers delivered this a.m. His reply arrived immediately saying it was great to hear good news and to offer up his help if we needed it in the future.

This might seem like a long post to read about something as mundane as newspaper delivery problems. But if you enjoy the sound of newspaper pages being turned in the silence of a shared morning breakfast ritual to start the day, you’ll understand.


“the man in the empty boat” . . .

poinsettia plants still doing well on the winter windowsill. . .

poinsettia plants still doing well on the winter windowsill. . .

Okay, so I’ve already written in the past about how nonsensical some of the writings about Nirvana, Zen and Enlightenment can be. An unknown reader to that post suggested that I read “The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman, author also of “Iron and Silk.”

I dutifully reserved that book and picked it up last week from my local branch library. It maintained my interest for a couple of chapters but then fell away from my stack of reading material situated on the small table near my sofa. BTW, this mound of reading increases and subsides as I add additional books to my local library’s online “hold” column whenever a book appeals to me from reading my daily junkie newspaper, the New York Times. I make a point of picking up books held for me at the branch library just down the street from where I live within a couple of days of their phone calls that let me know my reserved books are in. And I also promptly return books that I have browsed through, read or decided they weren’t for me. This rotating reading library is a godsend that has saved me lots of money and storage problems with buying used books on Amazon Prime. On average, I estimate I go through about a dozen volumes a week this way: 20% read to 80% reviewed.

After looking a bit at the “Laughing Sutra” volume, I searched online for Mark Salzman and learned he had married Jessica Yu, a third generation Chinese woman born in California and also graduated from Yale. Besides that, she produced a documentary about a polio victim in an iron lung called “Breathing Lessons” and won an Academy award for her short film made on a tiny budget. That’s right, an OSCAR!

His book, “The Man in the Empty Boat” was unavailable on the library search engine so I went ahead and purchased a used copy on Amazon Prime for a few dollars plus shipping. It arrived yesterday around midday in the mail and by suppertime, I had read most of it. My reading habits aren’t very noteworthy. That is, I don’t rest on every single word in a linear fashion. Instead, I’ll read a few chapters, skip around, maybe edge towards the back and then back and forth again. Part of my short attention span and peripatetic nature, I guess.

In any event, after I had gone back and forth a few times, his message, almost a subtext to a humorous and tragic memoir, was pretty astounding. For the first time, in plain, everyday blog-like language, Salzman makes the case for accepting that we are part of a larger Cosmos and that our role in life is not to DETERMINE what our life will be like; but instead to FIND OUT when the time is right what happens to us: hence, the empty boat of life and a way to be in it.

Honestly, this is the first time that my own experience of being greatly helped while truly being helpless due to fate or karma as a process has been described by someone else so accurately. When I look back on my life, the big moments of change and salvation were mostly out of my hands. Of course, I applied myself and did the best I could in each set of circumstances, but in the end, the outcome wasn’t really up to me.

And therein lies the message: everyone is just doing the best they can AND we’re all part of something greater that is unknowable until it becomes known to us.

Isn’t that freeing?


a life of our own . . .


the funniest card . . .

the funniest card . . .

Fate wasn’t done with us when G. and I met over twenty-three years ago.

When I say that “life is long” it’s meant with an amazement that we would meet later in life almost past middle age, and have been together so long ever since.

Today is our nineteenth wedding anniversary from a day when we crept down the back stairs in G.’s piano shop, slipped out the door and drove to City Hall in a sudden swirl of a snowstorm where the City Clerk met us, a gentle smile behind his thick glasses. We were married with no witnesses in the courtroom of shiny golden oak, the wood grain flaming all over the place. We were quiet as we said vows that we had written ourselves.

When we drove home, G.’s workers hadn’t noticed that we had gone out. I started cooking dinner while George went out to tune a piano. I think we had duckling with an orange or cherry sauce with wild rice and braised endive on the side. He called to let me know he was on his way home and called me “Mrs.” For a fellow who had foresworn ever to get married, he was in love with the idea of it as soon as it happened. I, on the other hand, struggled vainly to maintain my independence for over a year, adjusting to marriage again after the first one had frittered itself away such a long time ago.

Today and every day herein, we acknowledge how lucky we are to be living with each other in a life of our own.

Thank you, dear Universe!




the “tao-te-ching” and my dad . . .


My father translated the Tao-Te-Ching from the Chinese before he died in 2008 at the age of 88.

Today, I noticed that the last two words of the title reversed are the same as his given Mandarin name, “Ching-Te”.

How about that!

I also remembered the last time we stood together for a photograph and he took my hand and held it.

way better cookies . . .

light, crisp, bitter chocolate and toasted hazelnut cookie!

light, crisp, bitter chocolate and toasted hazelnut cookie!

The last three times I made chocolate chip cookies, I failed. That is, I was going for thin, crispy delicious cookies. And the recipe I followed on the Nestle’s toll house chocolate chips bag turned out lumpy and stout, stiff cake-like cookies. At first, I thought it was the turbinado sugar I was using so I got some white granulated sugar from a neighbor across the street. I read more recipes to try to understand what ingredients might result in a thin, crisp cookie. Martha Stewart’s thin cookie recipe called for adding a bit of water to the dough once it was mixed. Another specified aluminum-free baking powder. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then, there were recipes that called for only baking soda and no baking powder at all.

Add to this motley group of instructions my disappointment in discovering that one of the beaters to my portable mixer would not seat properly into the mixer and rattled loudly against the bottom of the glass mixing bowl. So, I mixed up the last batches of cookies by hand rather than beating them until they were fluffy. Maybe that’s why they turned out so hard you could barely bite down on them.

Last week’s stout little mounds of cookies didn’t seem to bother my husband, G. though, who scarfed them down a couple at a time when he came in frosty and dripping from snow blowing stints a few hours each session during record snowstorms here in New England recently. I started out making these batches of cookies as a treat to reward him when he came in from the cold. Seemed the least I could do to offset all that cold, hard labor outdoors.

So, today, I decided to refine my goals and try again. It’s Sunday and one of my favorite shows, “Madam Secretary” will be aired tonight for a new season and the purported finale of “Downton Abbey” is supposed to run for over an hour afterwards. A Sunday night feast of entertainment for which tasty, thin and crispy cookies would be nice to have on hand if I could only manage to find a recipe that succeeded beyond the pitiful previous attempts.

My research process today included reading recipes that had no egg, used light corn syrup and recommended keeping the dough cold while rolling out knobs of batter, then flattening them and baking in a 325 degree oven instead of 375 degrees. Indeed, this recipe by Amanda Hesser suggested cutting up a block of bittersweet chocolate into small bits (Ghirardelli) and adding walnuts. I opted for hazelnuts and possibly macadamia nuts, buying both at the grocery store along with the corn syrup and bittersweet chocolate bar.

The aforementioned portable mixer acted up again as I dutifully held it against the mixing bowl for a full three minutes to ensure that the butter and sugars plus the light corn syrup, vanilla and milk were fluffy enough to be blended properly. I decided the mixer had seen its last day in this kitchen and placed it in the Goodwill box after I washed and dried off the beaters.

I measured out the flour, baking soda and Maldon sea salt, gently hand blending it into the beaten fluffy sugar mixture. Cutting up the Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate bar into bits and browning chopped hazelnuts in a little butter to toast them completed the mixing part of the recipe. Two tablespoons of chilled batter rolled and flattened out turned out gigantic cookies the first time around. Halving the raw dough to one tablespoon, then pressing them flat on the cookie sheet produced the cookies that you see here: about three inches in diameter baked to a finely thin and crispy cookie.

I’m happy to say that it was way worth the effort to try this recipe with its royal ingredients of real chocolate and toasted hazelnuts. The baking process and the finished product resulted in a whole new level of invention and taste. Can’t wait to try this recipe next time with chopped macadamia nuts and maybe white chocolate!

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Note: If you follow Amanda Hesser’s recipe linked above, here are a couple of things that I changed: If you want cookies about 3 inches across (this photo); roll 1 tablespoon of cookie dough; flatten with fingers to about 1/4 inches thick and place 2 inches apart on buttered cookie sheet. I used half tablespoon of vanilla and half tablespoon of salt, reducing amounts listed in the recipe. Toasted chopped hazelnuts in a small skillet with melted unsalted butter; let cool to room temperature before adding to cookie dough. Chilled cookie dough as noted.

best cookies 1







spirit stuff . . .


DSC_0003As usual in the wintertime, I’ve been pulling out my books on Taoism, Buddhism and Zen to thumb through as the snow keeps falling and falling. The book, I-Ching, stays out for me so that I may ask the Cosmos questions when I am stumped or looking for reinforcement.

Recently, I decided to read over my father’s translation of the Tao te Ching, an endeavor that took his attention for the last four or so years of his life. He died in 2008 and was well known for his research in the field of astrogeology but it was a spiritual quest that included meditation and his work on the 81 verses of the Tao te Ching that consumed him at the end of his life. He was quite deliberate about it because he felt that Western translators who were not native Chinese and unable to read the ancient texts themselves were usurpers or worse. “Interpretations,” not even translations like Stephen Mitchell’s widely acclaimed version of the “Tao te Ching” just drove him crazy.

One of his footnotes to the first page noted his disdain for Ursula Le Guin and others who had used the word “power” as a translation for the word “te” (Tao te Ching) rather than  the word/concept of “virtue.” In hindsight, it almost seems comical that someone could be that furious about something like this, but hey–isn’t that what academia is all about? They love to argue about these kinds of things all the time.

I tend to enjoy translations and writing by a writer who calls himself “Red Pine” (aka Bill Porter.) That’s because he took seriously the idea of Taoist hermits and went searching for them in the wilds of the Sian mountains and wrote a book about it. One of my favorite parts is when he writes that these hermits are not invisible nor necessarily to be found in remote shacks in the wilds but are hiding in plain sight. In other words, there are tons of such Taoist hermits but you just don’t know by looking at them straight on that that’s who they are. I love that.

The reason I wanted to read my Dad’s version of the Tao te Ching is that I wanted to see what he was about in doing this work. Some of his wording belies his training as a research scientist in that he seems to feel compelled to explain everything about everything so thoroughly that you can’t miss it. Of course, if you’ve ever read any of this stuff, it’s almost just the opposite. In fact, in reading articles in a journal called “Buddhadharma” and looking at Zen Monastery websites, I’m at a moment close to shouting that “the Emperor’s Has No Clothes On” because honestly, (and I went to college!), it seems, sounds like and looks to me to be gobbledygook most of the time.

Zen enclaves offer retreats, courses and ask for donations all the time. They are marketing their wares just as much as say, MacDonalds is hawking hamburgers. Buddhist and Zen Priests, Roshis and hangers on congregate, fall in love with each other, have affairs with others (some of the Senseis are notoriously more famous for that than their spiritual leadership.) Deepak Chopra is a rich man. They are not ego-less, that’s for sure, because they’re writing books, making audio CDs, getting published and they care very much about their reputations and how they appear to the world. What’s wrong with this picture, I wonder?

In any case, I trust the I-Ching and its wisdom helps me out all the time as long as I don’t read into it what I think I want to hear. Which brings me back to what all this Tao stuff is all about. Simply put, I believe that the Tao is the Cosmos or the Universe. It is a belief in something greater than ourselves. And to me, it has been beneficent and guiding, not harsh and punishing like some religions that inculcate the young they will go to hell if they eat pretzels during Lent or something. Or that adultery can be worked off by saying X number of “Hail Mary’s” or lighting candles at Mass, for example.

My life has been an exemplar of a greater good guiding, rescuing and helping me every time I’ve been in a difficult life situation. There have been many, and I’m not exaggerating either. I have been helped when it seemed it was fruitless to hope for a positive outcome. I remember when I gave in or up to this higher power when I realized I could not “fix” things just by myself. The rest is history, as they say.

So, whether one wants to read about Spirit in a religious context, in a philosophical context or whatever, it’s really about faith and belief. I’m not sure if that huge Cosmic force works for someone if they don’t believe in it first. I just know that its presence in my life has been constant and has had a huge influence on how my life has turned out. I don’t pray to it per se. But I do ask for guidance and for help. I believe that Helpers are available just waiting to be asked. There’s some level of activity involved in engaging with this Tao–you just can’t rely on things happening without some belief or some giving energy going back and forth. Gratitude is a big component of this spiritual engagement. Asking for help and thanking the Helpers when it arrives serves to activate the belief that one’s life has more to it than just what I can do by myself by sheer will and effort alone.

So, my father’s writing is very verbose, at least in the translation version that I have. It’s a little less so in the draft that my sister has in her possession. And it’s nothing at all like the rather sparsely poetic translations that Red Pine and Stephen Mitchell have published.

As for reading about Zen and the Buddha dharma, it’s a true mystery to me and I’m no longer interested in looking for hidden meaning when I can’t even fathom what the unhidden words are saying outright. As for meditation, my physician said to me that it’s a lot more helpful to practice it than to read about it. Point taken.

So, that’s all the mystery I can think about writing in this post today. Either you believe because you have experienced it or you don’t. Either you have faith in a beneficent Universe that looks over your life or you don’t. It doesn’t really matter to anyone else. It can be a big influence on your life or absent altogether. We’re all different, right?

“he left nothing undone”. . .


The quotation title of this post is what Jill Carr said about the passing of her late husband, David Carr, last Thursday night. There has been an outpouring of anecdotes about him even though it’s less than a week since he died: intimate remembrances from friends, family, colleagues and strangers providing insight about him in the wake of his death (pun intended.)

As one writer noted, David Carr epitomized a life that illustrated second chances are possible. Redeeming himself with newborn twins, an addiction to drugs and a life of waste laid upon his body as well as on a dim future, he suffered from cancer, married, had another daughter, got a job at the NYTimes in 2002 and lived for another 13 years before he collapsed last week at his desk.

One irate reader asked why all the fuss over David Carr when she hadn’t been impressed by his writing nor his column? I guess you had to read and glean what it was from what others said about him to learn why he was so admired and not just what he wrote about. What I can gather is that he was a teacher about life as well as about writing. That he was stern and severe in his expectations coupled with empathy and encouragement towards those starting out and especially providing a way for diversity in the mix. He could fiercely compete with you and also be close friends.  I guess it might be more uncommon for people in high places like the Times to be that human and that compassionate towards others.

One commentator said that David might not have been the worst dancer, nor the best, but he was certainly the most secure when he was dancing. He lived life to the fullest no matter what he did and it seemed he must have known about his debilitating failing health for a long time and made a conscious choice to power on ahead anyhow. He died not in a hospital bed set in his living room but on the beat, working and doing his job.

I guess this is what his wife meant when she said he left nothing undone. That’s a pretty powerful message for those of us looking around ourselves to see what still needs to be done. And more importantly, what we would like to do that we haven’t yet done.

That’s a pretty powerful legacy to leave behind, don’t you think?

Long live David Carr!



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