Friday, December 31, 2010

Bye Bye 2010

New Year's Eve. Another year down the tubes so to speak. What have I, or any of us, got to show for it?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I've had a year of ups and downs. I think my lowest moments came during the BP oil spill, admittedly there were times when I was filled with despair and dread. For us in the Keys, we were spared environmentally. Most of us down here often think of our Gulf neighbors, and many have mobilized to donate time, money or resources to those in need in the impact zone.

On the up side of things, I have to say that being tapped as a speaker for TEDx was a pretty big highlight. Although the original date in Naples was rescheduled, we're on track for next summer. There's a lot of anxiety for me associated with that, I have seen many of the speakers and am in awe of them.

Between the highs and lows, there is regular living. Every day things. We said goodbye to loved ones who've left us too soon, and hello to some new neighbors who we look forward to getting to know. I explore something new every day, be it a recipe, something on the beach, something in the garden, or meeting a new person. I work for this Earth to be a better place each evening than it was when I woke up that same morning. I wish I could do more; I wish I could reach more people; I wish I could have more impact and bring the message about the importance of being vegan and living with awareness, mindfulness and compassion to help heal the world and all on it. It doesn't work that way, but I press on anyway.

In the year 2011, my friend Pop will turn 102. I will still be vegan, so will Mr. Happy Vegan. I will keep running and working out as long as my body will let me, and I will appreciate the organic, cruelty free food choices I have, and offer to our guests. In the year 2011, I will somehow find a way to keep sight that we are all connected, and somehow our lives all have meaning in their own way. Moving into 2011, Deer Run is working on some very big plans for the New Year, and we're looking forward to being able to share big news in the coming months if all works out as planned. In the year 2011 I will meet more people from all over the world, and will encounter highs and lows in the coming months. Through it all, we'll work at Deer Run to keep this space a healing place where diversity is welcome, food is kind, and peace is in the air. I hope the New Year brings abundant health, happiness and peace to all of you, and more than anything I wish for compassion and kindness to all sentient beings in the New Year. Consider all beings when making your own life choices, and do the best you can every day.

Happy New Year everyone. See you next year! Now let's get our party on!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's a Small World

Walt Disney was really on to something when he tapped 2 brothers and asked them to write lyrics to his tune "Its a Small World." They came up with:

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
Its a small, small world.

Yup, it is.

I like to read other people's blogs. Sometimes I simply do "google" searches just looking for nothing in particular, choosing some of my favorite keywords (often "vegan" or "eco") and just see what I come up with. Although I don't sign up for blogs, I have some favorites I do know by heart, and will key in their address daily to read what's up in their neck of the woods.

I'm bringing this up because during a monster workout on the street today (made possible by temps up over 70, thank you Universe) I began thinking about how small this world truly is. I have this little button on my administration page called "stats." When I click on it, I can see countries where people have read my blog. Don't panic, there's no personal info revealed, it just gives me a count of how many people from which country have checked in with "Living the Dream @ Deer Run." I really like my "stats" button. Its told me that I have connected with people in Russia, Thailand, Croatia, Slovenia, and India just to mention a few of the more exotic places that have checked in. We get lots of hits from France, Germany, Canada, and United States (of course). I truly find this absolutely amazing, and so exciting.

I blogged a tiny bit about my "bucket list" of things, mentioning that I've accomplished one of them, my moonrise kayak tour. But, see I absolutely MUST go to Thailand before its too late for me, as well as India. These places are calling to me "please come see us, please come see us" and now I learn that there's people over there reading my blog. I'm drawn more to Thailand, I think because of beaches and food. I have wanted to visit for years, and actually 2010 was my target year for a trip there. It didn't work out, but I'm not giving up, I will get there eventually.

So, really I think I just wanted to say "thank you" to those who care enough to read my blog. My mind is filled with so many things, most days its that I have too many topics to choose from that its not always easy. But, today was pretty easy. It actually came to me as I was running and observing all the different license plates that passed me. People are here from all over the world, and that led me to my "stats" button, and here I am saying hello Thailand, hello Russia, hello India, HELLO WORLD!

I wonder what is life like for everyone checking my blog. There's one of me, but more of you out there. Is it cold? Can you see ocean, rivers, lakes, ponds or any other water feature? Do you have animals trotting through your yard? Are you wearing a jacket or a swimsuit today? Shoveling snow or surfing monster waves on the North Shore? Are you cooking soup to warm your insides, or cutting fruit to cool you down? I guess its just rhetorical questions really, but I do wonder these questions for real, as the whole world goes on, and I'm here on a 2x4 mile tropical island covered with tiny deer, surfing the net for other blogs, recipes, news and so forth.

Today I cooked, baked, cleaned, experimented with a new recipe, worked out twice, checked some blogs, and collected trash to mention just a few things. I hope you can look at your accomplishments for the day and be sure you've done something positive for the the planet. We must all take care of it; what I do (or don't do) on Big Pine Key will eventually somehow have that ripple effect on the other side of the world. When that ripple makes it to you, I want it to be good, not bad. Because, you see, and we should never forget, its a small world after all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Universe Likes Kale Too

So, we meet again here on the blog. Its a beautiful day here on Big Pine Key; been chilly for 2 days, yet today begins the big warm up. Down here we've been told we will hit the 70 degree mark, and by end of week we'll be firmly in the mid-70s. I do hope I haven't jinxed the forecast by saying that out loud.

There is a lot going on down here this time of year, people-wise. The week between Christmas and New Year's is one of the busiest for the roadways. I plan my trips out with more forethought than usual, I like to get where I'm going and be done with it. I've been spending a lot more time in the kitchen, even though the massive onslaught of holiday baking is over. I'm still in the mood to re-work interesting sounding recipes, and see "what can I do with this ingredient that I haven't done before." To that end.... Santa stuffed an ice cream maker down my chimney. How thoughtful say I. First thing I do is hit the internet, and begin looking up recipes. Of course I wanted to make chocolate or banana as my first attempts. However, Mr. Happy Vegan says "I don't like banana" and something about chocolate being boring (gasp!) What flavor does HE want? Vanilla. Talk about boring. But, I've got a couple pounds of organic fairly traded whole vanilla beans sitting in my pantry, so vanilla will be placed on the list.

What does all this rambling have to do with my thoughts on "what can I do with this ingredient" that I haven't done before. Well, I tell you what. I came across a recipe for mint chocolate chip ice cream, with kale. KALE. I've never met a leaf of kale I didn't like, so I decided this recipe is for me. But.... no organic kale was forthcoming from our local market. What to do? Simple. Ask the Universe, and ye shall receive.

Last night, Mr. Happy Vegan went a few doors up the street to say hello to neighbors. When he returned, he brought in a giant shopping bag of organic fruits and veggies from the neighbors. They went to pick up their share from the local CSA, and surprise, there was extra. So, they scooped up a few items, and shared them with us. Guess what was in the bag.... USA grown, organic kale. See what I mean?

So, I'm going to make mint chocolate chip ice cream with specks of kale. I like chocolate, I like mint and I like kale. Mr. Happy Vegan is a fan of mint, and doesn't totally dislike kale, so this recipe is a good one for both of us. He may say chocolate is boring, but he will indulge occasionally.

I've got to stash the ice cream maker in the freezer for a while before I can make the ice cream. I have no idea how will this work out, but my pantry is stocked with mint extract, chocolate chips and now organic kale.

Let's see how this goes.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Not again. Another friend, gone.

We have lost another friend here at Deer Run. Our friend, Kevin, has passed.

Kevin died while we were away trekking the frozen tundra a few weeks ago. His passing was unexpected, sudden, and a total shock. I waited until Christmas passed for a few reasons. In all honesty I've been too tore up to even begin to cope with this loss. Doesn't it just seem like I just wrote about losing a friend? It was, and now its happened again.

Those of you who have visited us probably met Kevin, and most likely it was at the Good Food Conspiracy. Kevin was the man who often made the soup there. Very thin, usually sporting a very long ponytail sticking out from a cap. I say usually sporting a ponytail because he was known to shave it all off occasionally, and had done so just very recently as well. Kept to himself a lot in the store, but wow was he loved and part of that family.

I remember the first time I met Kevin, it was of course at Good Food, years ago. I was making a cookie delivery for the store, but the store wasn't yet open for the day. I saw a big white truck in the parking lot, peeked inside the front door and saw a mad scientist behind the counter stirring soup. I knocked. He looked up from his soup fixings and then looked away. I was ignored. I knocked again. He looked up, annoyed, came to the door, but wouldn't open up. "I have cookies!" I exclaimed. "I don't know anything about that!" he said back through thick glass. "Marney ordered them, I'm just dropping them off, please will you take them for me?" He opened the door, let me in, and said "just leave them over there" he pointed. I thanked him, and scurried out the door, listening to the lock click behind me. I wondered about the man I had just encountered. What was his story?

Kevin's story turned out to be very complex indeed, and Kevin himself was very complex. I didn't know it that morning, but Kevin would grow to become one of my most favorite people. You see, Kevin was an artist in the purest sense of the word. He created. He saw things in his head, and had music in his soul. Sometimes we were lucky enough he'd get around to re-creating that vision for the world. Whether it was food, gardening, music or tangible art. Didn't matter. He created. I admired.

Kevin was a very private person, and for this reason I will not share too many details of his life here. The thing is, he was so loved, to just let his passing go without discussion would be an injustice in my opinion.

Kevin was absorbed into the family of the Good Food Conspiracy. Like any other family, there's always squabbles, inside jokes, secrets, mysteries, and big love at the core. Oh was Kevin loved and adored by so many, especially his Good Food family. I loved walking into the store and seeing Kevin behind the counter. Often that meant he made the soup that day. Kevin was the creator of my most favorite soup ever, thai coconut. Now, anyone can make thai coconut, but Kevin's was extra special, and everyone (including Kevin) knew it was my favorite.

I think the first time I finally realized how special Kevin became to me was when I returned to the Keys after being gone from here for several months, caring for a dying relative. When I came back, I was physically & emotionally spent. Either the first or second day of my return, a call came to the inn, I think it was from Bonnie at the store. I was told Kevin had made thai coconut soup that day, and it was for me. He had put a container of it in the fridge at the store with my name on it, and I was to be called and told it was there. I hadn't seen Kevin in months, didn't know he even knew what was going on in my life at that time. But, he did. And, he wanted to be part of the healing process for me, and for him that was with food. My favorite soup. I did go and get my soup. He was not there, and even if he would've been there when I picked it up, he was so shy and modest, all he would've done in response to my gratitude was hang his head down and say nothing. Kevin did not wear his emotions on his sleeve, but still waters run deep.

Kevin was amazing. He and I shared some great conversation, some great food, some great parties, and some great times through the years. Remember that picture I posted months ago of Bonnie dancing at Reggae-fest? Kevin was sitting at the fest next to me when I took that picture. He shared my smuggled contraband that day (don't get all in a tizzy folks, I smuggled in vegan apple walnut muffins because vegan food offerings were limited at the event) and I remember crystal clear us sitting in extra low beach chairs, scarfing down apple muffins, rum drinks in hand listening to reggae, both remarking at the same moment how "incredible this moment in time is." Yup, we sure can get philosophical with enough rum (and apple muffins).

Kevin was a fellow Virgo, but whether he wanted his birthday noted varied from year to year. I loved baking for Kevin, a fellow chocoholic. I always put great love and care into my baking, but for Kevin I always pulled out all the stops. This year, he was all about the birthday. Yay! There was even a pot luck party for him. I made his birthday cake; vegan chocolate cake, with chocolate ganache filling and my best notbuttercream chocolate frosting. I swear that cake probably weighed 8 pounds or more, most of it ganache, I made a triple batch of it for that cake. I remember him sawing through that cake, licking chocolate off everything. Laughing. It makes me cry when I think about it. I made him a sign for his garden that said "compassion." It had pink hearts on it.

For my birthday, Kevin made me a piece of art. It's a coconut fish, with black coral for fins, and all sorts of spirals, seeds and more on it. Big gaping mouth, with sharp teeth fashioned from things found in nature. He painted this big wild hanging coconut fish silver & gold for me. Its one of the best gifts ever, and its hanging on my veranda. I love that fish. Now that Kevin is gone, I feel like it should be preserved in a box or something. I never want anything to happen to my big coconut fish because it reminds me of Kevin. After storms, I used to go up and down the beach collecting the best pieces of black coral that had washed in, for Kevin. Now, what will I do when I see all that black coral after next summer's storm season arrives? Its weird. Dumb stuff like that, drives me nuts.

The last time I saw Kevin was at Cindy's birthday party at the No Name Pub before leaving for the cold zone. I blogged about that party. Kevin came late, and all throughout the evening we all wondered where was Kevin, and hoped he would arrive. He came just before the last slices of pizza were eaten.... just in time for cake. He walked in the door, and all of us cheered "Kevin, Kevin!" "yay, Kevin's here!!" and he smiled ear to ear. The love he felt was immense. One person poured him a beer, another sliced cake for him and shoved it into his hands. He laughed, saying something like "hey I arrived at the perfect time, cake and beer!" and it was just a great night all around.

So, now Kevin is gone. Its just not the same for any of us. The Good Food family is grieving hard, and is forever changed, as are all the other friends and lives Kevin touched. A void is left behind, it cannot be filled, besides no one wants that void filled... you cannot replace Kevin. Mad Scientist. Artist. Animal Lover. Musician. Vegetarian. Free Spirit. Compassionate Soul. An enigma. Brilliantly smart, ever questioning. Friend to animals, nature and humankind. The gardens will never be the same, the gardens he tended with all his heart and soul. The people he tended will never be the same either. And, those of us who knew him are left behind grieving, hoping he was taken from us so young because so much more waited for him, and he deserved not to wait.

Rest in Peace Kevin. You were loved, and we are better for having known you at all. Blessed Be.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Woe is You?

The totals are not in yet, but I'm confident they'll be staggering for quite a few places. I'm talking about the white stuff; snow.

I've been surfing the web off and on today, reading about "the storm." We've got incoming guests already delayed, and keeping our fingers crossed for departing guests who we hope will not be delayed to their next destination... but that's not looking too good right now either.

I enjoy snow pictures when they first start to pop up. It looks pretty, really, it does! Who am I trying to convince, you or me? Then, the reality washes over me. Almost nothing feels worse than heavy wet snow and frigid cold air pummeling legs clad in short booties and pantyhose, as my hands grip a metal pipe snow scraper, pushing far too many inches of snow off the roof of a car. One of my personal favorites was always the clearing of the car windows that went like this: wipe wipe wipe wipe wipe wipe ad nauseum (snow brush); scrape scrape scratchy screech scrape scrape etc (snow scraper OR credit card); pop (car door lock); thump (my butt on the seat); grumble grumble (me, seeing snow crumbles at the bottom of the driver's side window); eeeeeeee (the sound of the electric window going down very slowly), and; *&#@#! (the sound of me cursing as that same snow falls INSIDE the car, onto the seat upon my freezing legs clad in those short booties and pantyhose). How many times was I trapped at the office, driving in no snow, by end of the day, blizzard conditions. Never really prepared. Even living in the frozen tundra I didn't keep ski pants and parkas hanging in my office "just in case." No, that was not me. I lived in denial that it would snow, and snow big sometimes. Did I mention the special feeling I'd get as the snow was invariably deeper than those cute booties, so much so that it just all falls inside said cute booties. Ahhh... the joys of winter. Translation: Why I moved here, from there.

Here I sat on Big Pine Key today. After two absolutely glorious days, the winds picked up overnight. They were from the north. I admit it, tenderfoot me wussed out on the running. It was "only" 66 degrees, and the north winds just weren't doing it for me. I looked over at the Coupon Bight and saw white caps; didn't like that, especially since I run parallel to the Bight. I knew the wind would push me around one way or another. So, I bailed. Instead, I walked up and down the beach then sat in one of my heavy duty recycled plastic Made in the USA Adirondack chairs, and thought about stuff. My brain has been aching with lots of important issues lately and I purposely just let my mind wander to nothing. I watched the birds catching their thermals. Watched the pelicans dive for food. Let Peri climb onto my lap, and bundled up in the warmest shirt I could find. Stared at the sand. Observed my pink toe nail polish, feet clad in flip flops; NOT snow booties (not even cute snow booties).

Sorry about your snow. We don't have any on Big Pine Key. Not now, not ever. Not even with global "climate change." I'm sticking around these parts for a while. If you can make it out of your snowbound city, perhaps I'll see you on the beach with a margarita. You'll know me when you see me; I'm the one in the flip flops writing stories about not scraping ice from car windows with my credit card anymore.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A glimpse


Starry Sky.
Peri purring. Palm trees swaying.

Candles. Sage. Crystals.
Incense. Laughter. Tears.
Grief. Joy.
Memories. Memories. Memories.

Fireworks. Neighbors. Laughter. Cheers.
Down the beach... us, hidden in the darkness. Laughing. Cheering. Too.

Bed late.
Awake early.

Beach coffee.
Sunshine. Pelicans. Osprey.

Kitties playing. New toys.
Kitties hiding. Tissue paper and boxes.
Happy kitties. Purring kitties.

5k run. Aasics.
Push ups.
and More.

Phone calls.
From far away.

Sparkling wine.
Grapes. Chocolate (organic! fair trade!)

Vegan field roast.
Fancy plates.

Good hair.
No hat.

Flip flops.

Hammock again.
Moonlight again.
Starry sky again.
No Peri. Peri, Peri, where are you?

Fireworks again.
Us hidden, again. Laughter again. Cheers again.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Here we are, Christmas Eve. The shopping is done, the baking is done. The cooking, scrubbing, and polishing is done. The deliveries are finished. The wrapping is done, the planning is done. So, what is left?

What is left for me is remembrance, and hope.

Tonight is a time of reflection of times past, and remembrance of those who are no longer here on this Earthly plane. I miss them, be it people or animals. Miss them terribly.

It is also a time of hope. I hope they are safe, I hope their spirits soar. I hope to reconnect with them some day, and celebrate those reunions.

There really isn't much left to say. I share with you my favorite Christmas song. John Lennon & Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas." Maybe it's not your idea of a traditional Christmas, but its a beautiful song, to me.

Merry Christmas everyone. Peace.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over over
If you want it
War is over

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sparkles, cookies & palm trees

Another day gone by. I've got a little time before I head out to boot camp class, figured what the heck, I'll see if I can get a post done.

So, how are you doing balancing fun vs. stress this holiday season? So far, so good? I hope so. On my end of things, the percentages are still in favor of fun on that battlefront. I've managed to keep up a fairly decent work out schedule, although I have slipped a little. The last 2 days in a row my running has fallen victim to lack of time, lack of prioritizing. I'm not going to freak out over this, I've kept up a good schedule at the gym and with my trainer, Halley.

I drove around town today, dropping off boxes of homemade cookies & treats for people I appreciate, those I love. Its a happy thing, this cookie delivery aspect of today. Driving around, I saw lots of people wearing sparkly things, Santa hats, and even 2 cars with reindeer antlers and a red nose affixed. Cute. So, I tuned my radio to a reggae station that was playing steel drum Christmas carols, and tooled up and down the islands delivering boxes of cookies with sparkly ornaments I made. Some of my boxes even had tree ornaments woven by Mark the weaver.

My house kind of looks like a bomb exploded. My kitchen is clean, but is stacked to the hilt with cookies and treats tucked into plastic bins, waiting to be boxed and delivered. The cats have been randomly taking sea sponges off my Yule tree and batting them around typically about 4:30am, and I'm definitely sleep deprived. Sounds like Christmas is near.

I hope you're winning your own battle on percentages too. Try not to worry too much. Somehow, all of us who have all this extra stuff to do, well, those things will get done. That which doesn't get done is not life threatening. Its all good. I am looking forward to tomorrow, taking another drive, delivering more treats, picking up a few last minute things, and watching people scurry to & fro. All this to a backdrop of aqua blue water and palm trees swaying. Christmas time in the Keys.... mid-70s today, blazing sun. Crystal clear skies at night, pirates ringing Salvation Army bells, and steel drum music filling my airspace. I'm feelin' it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Yule!

Today is Yule. Happy Yule to you!

Another over-scheduled day here at Deer Run, with much business to tend to. My focus was on Yule, as much as it could be. I made my Yule log. My first ever, and vegan to boot. This vegan Yule log is a source of pride, so lookie-lookie, I've posted a picture.

As I had blogged earlier, I poured over the internet looking for "how to's" in support of this project. I got confused, I admit. Some of those recipes are complicated, and I began to get intimidated. When push finally came to shove, I decided to toss out the traditional "should do it this way" rules & requirements, and instead do it my way. I used my own basic chocolate cake recipe, my own chocolate not-buttercream frosting, and my own chocolate ganache. All vegan, all tried & true recipes. I did watch a tutorial on how to make a Yule log (much more complicated than it needed to be), and my goodness, winging it I'm satisfied with the results. The cake is chocolate in all its glory. Marzipan is not vegan, so I ditched the little "should do it this way" marzipan mushrooms & decorations, instead I foraged outside for sea grape leaves, a small palm frond, holly berries (poison! they never touched the food I swear it!) and some flowers from the garden. I'm proud of my vegan Yule log with a tropical flare. Within less then 1/2 hour of completion, my friend, Jerri, a kindred spirit, happened by with Yule wishes, and a beautiful geode for me. As I write this, that very special gift is on the beach, soaking up all the light the full moon has to offer. Jerri and I sat and talked, and I swear it, the Universe sent her to me to celebrate Yule. She was the first one to see my cake, and the perfect person to share it with. She is a very special lady. She also is a turtle person; she patrols beaches during nesting season, and is completely dedicated to the cause. What an amazing spirit she is!

Admittedly, I am tired. I worked past 1am, and decided to catch a quick nap before the eclipse. A little after 2am I made my way to the beach to watch the lunar eclipse. I was cold and went inside for a wrap. When I came back out, Peri was waiting for me. He jumped onto my lap, made some kitty pizza, and settled down with me for quite a while as the eclipse went total. Did you see it? It was worth getting up for. I saw 2 shooting stars as well. The sky down here was absolutely crystal clear; the milky way was splashed across the Universe. It was quite a humbling spectacle out there.

Through all the hustle and bustle, Winter Solstice came & went, and my Yule gift arrived in the form of a kindred spirit to share my labor of love. This was a great day, over scheduled & hustle-y bustle-y, but full of friendship, chocolate, nature, love & hope. I hope your Winter Solstice was peaceful, and I wish you a very happy Yule. Time for more cake, gotta go!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice

When I woke up this morning, there was no dilly-dallying. It was a mad dash right into the kitchen; bad hair stuffed under a baseball cap. Pans, pots & spatulas were flying everywhere. Mr. Happy Vegan and I kept bumping into each other, we were both harried, flustered, and had so many extra chores to do being its holiday time. He said to me at one point "we're both rushing, we're going to make mistakes." He was right, but I wouldn't realize it until some 10 hours later.

Today absolutely went by in a blur. There was breakfast to be cooked, baked & served, dishes to do, menus to plan, cookies to bake, cakes to mix, laundry on tap, letters to write, bills to pay, phone calls to make, animals to care for, marketing to do, and errands for Pop. Through it all I would not lose sight that boot camp was mandatory tonight. Mr. Happy Vegan said he'd do the marketing for me so I wouldn't miss class. He sure can be thoughtful, that one chore taken from me made a huge difference.

So, I made a quadruple batch of biscotti, figuring I'd slice & re bake when I got back from the gym. Just minutes before dashing out to the gym, on a whim I decided to make one last cookie recipe, something from my past but one I haven't made lately. Here comes the mistake...I mismeasured one liquid ingredient... by 4 times as much. Even as I poured the ingredients towards the Kitchen Aid, I though "hmm, that doesn't look right" but didn't check anything. As soon as the batter swirled, I knew what I had done. I couldn't face the consequences, so I left the batter smack dab on the counter, and left for class.

When I returned, I had 2 choices... dump the batter, or fix it. Fixing it meant making a quadruple batch. That's 8 loaves of bar cookies to be mixed, baked & sliced. I opted for #2, not wanting to feed the wormies my organic & fair trade ingredients.

As the 8 loaves of cookies chilled, and 150 biscotti baked, I finalized my Yule log plans. Yes folks, the cake is in the pan, next up for baking. I'm so excited. My very first vegan Yule log. Winter Solstice is tomorrow, 12/21. This is a big deal for me, a really big deal. The only other day of the year that gets me this jazzed is the 1st day of summer, which I've written about already. Winter Solstice is a time for celebrating; a time to honor the faith that the seemingly forever darkness will cease, and yes, light will return. Then, the days finally become longer.... bringing us that much closer to summer. I'm celebrating Solstice.

When I got home from the gym tonight, Mr. Happy Vegan surprised me with a gift; a Yule tree. Secretly he'd been collecting objects off the beach for a few days. When I left for class, he decorated the tree. Shells, sponges, leaves & so forth. There's big sea sponges that washed in which he painted to look like living coral, and arranged all across the bottom. He painted the names of all our animals on sea grape leaves, and right now they're drying on the dining room table. This is my holiday, not his, yet he did this for me. I honestly think this is one of the sweetest things he's done in ages, and he'll probably be like "why did you write about that on the blog?!" because men are like that, aren't they? Embarrassed by non-embarrassing things. I'll just tell him I wrote it because its sweet, romantic, and I love him for that.

So, with all this happening, we've also got an eclipse and a blood red moon to watch. Yup, we'll be up to see this. Actually, I'll probably just stay up working in the kitchen until its time to go outside and watch. Its crystal clear right now and the air is crisp. I'm baking, cooking, cleaning, and working, all night tonight. Crunch time. Its here. In a big way. I hope you remember that in your own crunch time, make time to celebrate. Celebrate the day, the hour, the moment. Cherish it. If we don't, the moments slip away, forever gone. Seize the day baby, and relish the night. See you soon; dancing under the blood red moon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mmm.... Cookies.

It is time for a baking intervention. Again. Here I sit, coming up on mid-afternoon, and I'm only just now taking a (brief) break from the kitchen to check emails and do this post. I've got the fever; baking fever that is.

Since cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I've made a quadruple batch of chocolate chip cookies, another batch of yesterday's peppermint whoopee pies (candy cane cookies), a double batch of chocolate biscotti, and cupcakes. My house smells like a chocolate factory, and that's ok by me.

This fondness I have for baking won't go away. As the years pass, it seems to actually get more intense. With the holiday season in full swing, everyone wants homemade treats, but many folks don't have the time to make them. So, people call me and ask me to do it for them. In a way its like getting paid to play.

I've got the biscotti cooling on racks, and I'm going to get outside asap for a run. I ditched the running for the past 2 days. Because the sun sets much earlier this time of year, if I don't make my run an early priority, it falls by the wayside. Happily we're just days away from Winter Solstice where we will once again see the days begin to grow longer.

Speaking of Winter Solstice, I have decided to make a cakealicious vegan Yule log. I've gone on line and combed through as many recipes as I could find, vegan and non-vegan. I studied and compared them. I think I've chosen the one I'm going to work with, there will of course be modifications needed, but this is a "one shot" deal. There's a fair amount of labor involved, and I'm not about to do this twice. So, it will be what it is (mostly likely a crumbled up stack of chocolate cake & fillings), but I've got a few more days to think this through. For now, I've got 2 more cookie recipes to make (at least triple batches of course!) and a few miles to run on the road. I better go, the winds are picking up and the temperature is dropping (oh no!)

Keep your fingers crossed for the Yule log (and a not too distant baking intervention...)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Recipe For You

I was surfing the net a couple days ago, and came upon the "cookie of the day" courtesy of Bon Appetit. Looks like a small whoopee pie, with crushed candy canes all around the edges. As I read the recipe, I thought "Mmm, tasty," and then "this looks so easy to veganize!" Minty magic. Pair chocolate with almost anything (especially peppermint) and you had me at hello.

These cookies are simple. Most bakers will have the ingredients on hand anyway. I swear these cookies are smiling at me... very happy cookies. I'm offering you the recipe as it was written, with my vegan exchanges as the only thing I've changed as far as the published recipe. However, I did make some changes when I made them myself because of local conditions (salt in the air, ocean lapping at my doorstep, and rainy today). I added some organic chocolate extract because in my opinion nothing can ever be too chocolatey, I added baking powder because I need more leavening living where I do and, also virtually everything I used was organic, including the candy canes. My chocolate & sugar are also fairly traded, remember to support fair trade whenever you can. If you cannot find natural food coloring, beet juice or beet powder, leave the coloring out. When I made these cookies today, I didn't have any coloring, so I left it out.

Some may want to "health up" this cookie with maybe whole wheat flour, less sugar, or whatever. In my world a cookie is a treat. I do not usually attempt to work with whole wheat flour anymore, its too dense for my style of baking. I'm tired of tossing organic whole wheat flour in my compost, those little wormies out there don't need anymore of my epic failures.

You can make your own powdered sugar by grinding 1 tablespoon organic arrowroot powder per cup of sugar (Florida Crystals, Equal Exchange, Sugar in the Raw, etc). If you have something like a Vitamix (use your dry container), you'll be ok. If you don't have a good blender, be careful, you can burn out your blender doing this. I actually have taken my Vitamix with me when traveling; I rely on it that much!

My cookies came out slightly cakey. The filling was very fluffy. They sure look happy to me. The weather conditions here today were very unfavorable for baking. Over 70 degrees, with very high humidity and occasional downpours. The air conditioning is not on, our doors and windows are all wide open. Despite this, the cookie part of the recipe came out ok (I'm sure it would've been less dense baked in a different climate). The hardest part of this recipe today was getting the candies on the cookie before the humidity made them a big clump on the plate. I repeatedly had to crush candy. Next time, I'm going to use India Tree's version of peppermint candy decors, all ready to go in a little tube. Not an organic product, but all natural. They use beets for red coloring.

There's supposed to be a picture with this post (Mr. Happy Vegan even took a pic of Mark's wreathes for me too), but as he went to download, the entire memory card fritzed. All the photos are gone. That's the only thing that really went wrong with the entire cookie process today.

Go vegan! For you, the animals & the planet! Happy (vegan) baking, now & always!


1 3/4 cup (organic) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (organic, fairly traded) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process preferred)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (organic, fairly traded) sugar
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) (organic) soy margarine, room temp
1 tablespoon (organic) ground golden flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons filtered water

1 cup plus tablespoons (organic, fairly traded) powdered sugar
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) (organic) soy margarine, room temp
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops natural red food coloring (PLEASE DO NOT USE CONVENTIONAL, IT MAY BE MADE WITH BEETLES, REMEMBER MY OTHER POST) or beet powder as needed
1/2 cup crushed crushed red & white striped candy canes (use organic to insure red food coloring is not from an insect source) or hard peppermint candies

For cookies:
Place margarine & sugar in stand mixer, beat til combined. Add flax "egg" and mix til combined. Sift in dry ingredients, mix til just combined. Chill dough 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets w/parchment paper. Scoop 1 tablespoon per cookie, roll into a ball, place on sheet, and flatten w/hand. Edges will crack. Bake about 11 minutes (til small indentation appears when tops of cookies are touched lightly w/fingers. Do not over bake, you want them cakey, not crispy.

For filling:
In stand mixer, beat powdered sugar & margarine until well blended. Add peppermint & coloring. Beat until well blended, adding more coloring if desired. Spread approx. 2 teaspoons filling evenly over 1 cookie to edges, top with another cookie, press down til filling oozes out the sides a little. Repeat til all cookies filled.

Place crushed candy canes on plate, roll edges of cookie sandwiches in crushed candies. Candy will stick to filling. Store in a single layer in an airtight container 3 days, or freeze up to 2 weeks. Yum!

Friday, December 17, 2010

As Festive As It Gets!

For the first time in years, I voluntarily put on Christmas music, and it wasn't even tropical. I popped the Vince Guaraldi Peanuts Christmas CD into the player as Mr. Happy Vegan popped the cork on a good bottle of Chianti. As the music played, I actually began to decorate for the season.

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's is typically an arduous time for me. There was a lot of hardship and injustice that my family and I suffered around this time of year, and memories linger. I don't know what happened to me today; perhaps I can blame it on the sunshine and temps in the mid-70s, but I really wanted to decorate for the season.

I rummaged in my pantry and came out with a few pounds of dried split peas and red kidney beans, then moved outside. I began plucking red & green sea grape leaves off the trees. Back into the house, tucked back into a closet, I pulled out some red glass votive holders from years past, and a few gold glitter candles. Next, I opened a few bags of fresh cranberries, and pulled some fresh limes from the fridge. I then began filling vases with all of these wonderful items.

As I placed the vases around the breakfast area and my living room, Mr. Happy Vegan was outside hanging wreathes made for us by a man named Mark the weaver. I like Mark, he is a nice guy. He lives locally, and weaves things out of palm fronds. Now, saying he weaves things out of palm fronds is really an understatement, as Mark's work is beautiful art. Mark made us several beautiful wreathes, with sprigs of holly berries on the sides which also grow local. I think Mark could weave anything you ever would ask him to. He weaves custom hats, baskets, wreathes, ornaments, animals, and so forth. When he delivered my wreathes, he presented me with a beautiful basket as a gift which he wove. Right now that basket is filled with citrus fruit sitting on my table, its gorgeous. I have several of Mark's baskets, I love them all. The palms of course start off green, but with time they will dry to a very mellow vanilla color. I would love to have posted a picture of one of the wreathes, but one of the happy vegans here who again shall remain nameless (but is not me...) didn't get around to taking a picture during daylight hours. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have better luck on that request.

So, wreaths are hung, vases are filled, and I've been making pomander balls for days. Holiday biscotti have been flying out of my oven by the dozens for the health food store (most recent selection was chocolate with dried cranberries and vegan white chocolate chips, hellyeah!) Mr. Happy Vegan got the eco-friendly solar lights on the mangrove in the ocean, and put up LED lights on our old Festivus palm. He placed it at the end of our driveway where guests can see it upon arrival. Even our manatee mailbox is tricked out with a wreath by Mark the weaver.

I'm drinking my wine, pouring over cookie recipes, and planning a little shopping tomorrow at the Out of the Blue gallery on Big Pine Key which will be hosting an art show. I don't think I could ask for anything else right now, I feel absolutely as festive as it gets. What an amazing, uplifting, and wonderful feeling.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hidden Non-Vegan Ingredients

Its a very interesting thing, our country's food supply that is. I go to supermarkets, stores, farm stands, etc. in a constant quest for organic food. Our main supplier here at Deer Run is our local health food store, Good Food Conspiracy. They have earned my trust and respect, plus I adore every single person who is at that store. But, like most others, I also do some marketing at supermarkets. I am dismayed by the quality of food that is offered in most mainstream markets. The thing is, that food is cheaper and easier to obtain than food that has actual nutritional value. Frustrating.

At Deer Run, I prepare a full breakfast from scratch every morning from mostly organic ingredients, with as many fair trade items as I can source. We have a policy here, no outside products at the breakfast table unless it is necessary medication. My reason for this is that my breakfast table is essentially sacred space, and I do not want any non-vegan products in that space. There are hidden ingredients in food which are not vegan. The best example of this is calcium fortified orange juice. Did you know that the type of Vitamin D in said calcium enriched orange juice is sourced from fish. So, even something as basic as orange juice (seemingly vegan) has been altered by some large food conglomerates to contain an animal product, turning some types into a non-vegan product.

Food colorings are a huge issue as far as being a hidden non-vegan ingredient. There are a lot more mentions in the media lately about red food coloring. Often times, red dyes classified as "natural" come from carmine or cochineal sources. That's crushed up beetles folks. You'll find that in yogurt, ice cream, cosmetics, and a host of other products. You will NOT find that in vegan yogurts, vegan non-dairy desserts, vegan cosmetics, any other vegan products, because obviously it is NOT vegan.

The Omega-3s in enriched bread could be fish derived. Many "gummy" products (gummy bears, jell-o, marshmallows) contain gelatin, which is derived from animal bones. Refined white sugar is processed with bone char, meaning during the manufacturing process the sugar is touching/being filtered through ground up animal bones (you can avoid bone char by choosing something like "Sugar in the Raw" or brands called "Wholesome Sweeteners" and "Florida's Crystals." Whey is in in many products, which is a dairy product. The shellac & confectioner's glaze on many candies people eat is derived from insects. Even many soy-based cheeses contain casein which is a milk ingredient. I think its a cheap ingredient to help those products melt. Seeing the words "natural flavors" on any product should immediately set up a red flag for those of us concerned with hidden non-vegan ingredients. Insects ARE natural, so there's no lying in that label. But, really, most of us would like to know about those insects we smeared on our lips to make them red, or eating in that pretty pink or red food. Have you even thought about what's in the food coloring you're putting into your latest red velvet cake, or about those holiday sprinkles your putting on your sugar cookies?

You should never let your guard down when it comes to food. Even in places you'd think its "safe," its not. I was at a very well known natural food chain up north last week, looking at the "healthy living" section of their prepared foods. It was a beautiful selection of food, I must admit. I was cold and wanted soup. I was reading all the ingredients (this chain clearly lists food ingredients on the food offered) and the cook behind the counter overheard me chatting with Mr. Happy Vegan wondering which were vegan options. She pointed me to one offering saying it was vegan, exactly as I was reading the ingredient list. It had whey in it. Clearly labeled (thank you!) and I said "no, this has whey in it." She replied that the soup was non-dairy, it "only"had whey in it. Clearly there was a disconnect there for her. I stated that whey is NOT vegan, it IS a dairy product. She honestly didn't seem to "get it," and pretty much kept saying the soup was non-dairy. I walked away, just being grateful the store had the ingredients listed for me to decide for myself.

I have a book called "A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients" by Ruth Winter. That book is kept in my kitchen, along with my cookbooks. When I have a concern about an ingredient, that is the first place I go for my research. After that, I go on line and continue my research until I'm satisfied I have accurate information about whether an ingredient is vegan, or not.

There have been times when people have brought outside items to the table, and they have been asked to remove them. This typically does not go over very well, but I'm now at a point where I truly think its a matter of respect and courtesy for us at Deer Run as well as other guests to adhere to this policy. Mostly I think we as a collective group of humanity just are unaware of how our food is manipulated these days, and what's really in it. One of the blessings of having a scratch kitchen is that I can better control what goes into my food. The standard for organic food is higher (not perfect, just higher) and there is much less chance of ingesting an ingredient that is either morally objectionable or an allergen when using organic products, along with doing some reading whenever there's a concern.

I believe we have a right to know what is in our food, and I have the right to declare my breakfast area sacred space. As we continue to move forward in our quest for knowledge, I believe more people will eventually make more compassionate choices. There's no reason to crush up billions of beetles to make strawberry yogurt or ice cream a "pretty" color, when there's other choices, like beet powder for example.

I encourage everyone to engage in dialogue with suppliers and manufacturers, making your concerns and desires known. I also do not want GMO's in my food, and believe they should be clearly labeled. I believe we have a right to know what's in our food, and here at Deer Run we do our absolute best to be educated about food issues. As consumers we hold a lot of power in our wallet. Use the power wisely.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tips for Veganizing Food

So here I am again, in front of the empty page. There's actually quite a lot going on here, for now I'm going to put off writing about something at the forefront of my attention, and instead focus on some other stuff. At least for a few more days.

I hear more and more people saying they want to eat healthier, live a better quality of life, but don't know where to start. Often people turn to me with questions about food substitutions, which I will do my best to answer without overwhelming someone with information. Things really seem to ramp up over the holiday season with food and over indulging. I would like to take a moment to write here and offer a few suggestions on veganizing things. It can be confusing when you're planning a dinner party, a gathering, or whatever, and you know someone has an allergy or special food concern. The word "vegan" often paralyzes cooks & bakers for reasons I just don't understand, but don't beat yourself up over this. Even almost all restaurants seem to grapple with these issues and cooking/baking is their livelihood. With the vast resources on the internet, I am constantly on line researching new ideas, looking at recipes, and coming up with ideas. You can too. In the interim, here's some tips.

If you want to bake something vegan, you can substitute exact measurements of dairy milk with soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, or almost any other non-dairy milk. If you need "buttermilk" in a recipe, measure out your non-dairy milk, then add about 1.5 teaspoons of lemon juice per cup, set aside for a couple minutes to curdle, and presto veganized "buttermilk." You can substitute butter with a product called "Earth Balance" soy margarine. It comes whipped in tubs, organic, conventional, and in sticks, just like butter. The measurements are exactly the same for baking purposes. To substitute eggs in baking, you have a few options. My favorite way of "faking eggs" in baking is to mix 1 tablespoon of ground organic golden flax seeds with 3 tablespoons of water. This equals 1 egg for baking purposes. No, you cannot scramble it, fry it, or otherwise "egg" it, but for baking, it is ideal. Sometimes people have concerns eating seeds (like in diverticulitis) so when I have that concern to deal with, I use a product called "egg replacer" by "Ener-G." I believe it is a potato starch. The box has the directions for use. Its a powder that you mix with water. You can buy this at places like health food stores and Whole Foods. Skip the Crisco, instead buy organic shortening from Spectrum organics.

Another substitution for eggs is using either applesauce or mashed bananas. I do not use those substitutions as I find the final product is too dense living on the water as I do. But, they're possibilities for you perhaps.

Tofutti brand makes soy based sour cream and soy based cream cheese that can be substituted measurement for measurement when veganizing a conventional recipe. Be careful with the Tofutti to make sure you buy the cream cheese that is non-hydrogenated, as they have 2 versions, one hydrogenated, one not. I'm not sure why that is.

With these substitutions you can convert almost any recipe. For a thickener, I use organic arrowroot, never cornstarch (personal preference, I believe corn starch is almost evil). Gluten free vegan baking is a whole different world, I will not spend too much time on it as I'm still working on perfecting that myself. As I've written in the past, I live on the ocean, and its very difficult to get gluten free baking just right, at least for me. I like to work with gluten free flours like sorghum, coconut, rice and almond, and often will make my own "base" combination of flours. However, "Bob's" makes a decent line of gluten free flours, baking mixes and other products, which you can bet you'll find sitting in my pantry too. When baking vegan gluten free, I find that it's imperative to never over mix gluten free recipes, to bake them for the least amount of time possible, and as soon as its out of the oven, you take it out of the pan so it doesn't continue to bake in the pan. Gluten free vegan baking in my world can get gummy or chewy, so be extra diligent.

Suppose you're going to have a holiday gathering. Hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, finger foods, desserts. You've got someone vegan who'll be there.... what to do? I know I'd be thrilled to walk in and find a nice assortment of fresh cut veggies tucked around a hummus plate, maybe some tabbouleh (you can buy that pre-made, same as the hummus, if pressed for time). You can put out some nice organic tortilla chips, or toasted pita points too. Maybe some fresh salsa (you can buy organic already made too), and serve your beverages of choice. Always make sure you have something non-alcoholic available for guests. I think cranberry juice with seltzer looks nice & festive, you can dress it up with nice garnish. Dessert? Simply take your favorite chocolate chip recipe and veganize with the above tips. How about buying some nice fresh strawberries, and dipping them in organic melted (vegan) dark chocolate. Place in fridge to set up and voila, instant tastiness. If you'd like to serve a hot food choice, you can boil some pasta (make it whole wheat), mix with some sauteed dark greens, garlic, chopped tomatoes and white beans. Season to taste. Delicious, trust me. One thing, make sure you don't sprinkle it with cheese when its ready to serve. That is definitely NOT vegan, and would ruin all your enlightened efforts. Instead, you can feel free to sprinkle your food with nutritional yeast if you want a "cheesy" taste. Or, leave as is, because it will be so delicious you don't need to add anything else.

Vegan isn't scary. Vegan is good. Vegan is kind. Vegan is enlightened. Vegan is healthier. Vegan is easy once you drop the mindset that its complicated. It's not complicated. We all eat vegan often, we just don't call it vegan. Salads, pastas, rice, fruits, veggies, beans, and many "mainstream" items are accidentally vegan (for example, regular Ritz crackers are vegan, so are regular Oreos!) Read labels, care about what you eat. Reduce your consumption of animal products. Every vegan meal you eat is a victory for you, animals, our planet, and our future. Our bodies are miraculous. Take care of yourself, and reap the rewards. Happy veganizing!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmastime in the Keys

Some time over the summer, I had a guest here who was asking about Christmas in the Keys. He shared his thoughts that he figured it was like it "didn't even happen" down here, meaning no trees, no lights, nothing. I asked him what made him make such an assumption, and he replied something along the lines that it just didn't seem like a "Christmasy" kind of place. I grew up in a traditional household, celebrating Christmas. Over the years my belief system has been molded into something semi-unconventional. It's been a long progression, but even in my present state of mind, I still enjoy the theme of "good will" towards one another and do find some parts of the Christmas season soothing.

I explained to our inquiring guest that Christmas in the Keys is a lot like other places. People put up trees and decorate them, homes and businesses are dressed up, Christmas parties abound, street lights have seasonally themed decorations on them (including boats & dolphins), and Santa even makes the rounds. Here at Deer Run, Mr. Happy Vegan walks into the Atlantic Ocean with our eco-friendly lights, and strings them all over the mangrove in front of our inn.

What I also told our inquiring guest is that that I think people say "Merry Christmas" more than "Happy Holidays" (PS: please do not send me any email defending, or arguing, the specifics of "happy holidays." I'm not offended by that phrase as some people seem to be, instead I take it for what it is; a pleasant greeting and a way to wish people of all denominations peace during the season). I think folks down here make their own fun. For example, I don't think most people would expect to see Salvation Army bell ringers dressed up in full pirate & wench garb, and I don't think I'd see a pine tree that grows out of a dilapidated, closed, concrete bridge covered in solar Christmas lights in the middle of the ocean (refer to yesterday's post).

Folks down here do tend to put a tropical flair on things quite often, and also I find there's Christmas music I can finally tolerate in the form of steel drums and island singers.

I've shopped for gifts all through the Keys, and still find that the "thrill of the hunt" for the perfect gift is just about as perfect as that perfect gift. Down here, shops are all dressed in holiday finery, businesses have lights and neat things on them, there's lighted inn tours, craft bazaars, art shows, and even lighted boat parades. There are more charity food & children's toy drives down here than you can even imagine too. While so many parts of our country chill to the bone in a deep freeze, here most days we can shop in our flip flops & t-shirts, all while listening to tropical Christmas music. Its really kind of nice.

So, here we are just a couple weeks from Christmas. I'm probably in the minority down here being one who does not celebrate this holiday as a religious one, but I will observe the season, and especially the actual Eve & day as one for reflection and good will towards people, planet and animals. I plan on making Yule cookies for my friends, and also will begin baking & delivering my special holiday biscotti to the health food store tomorrow, for it is imperative that my community has its fill of delicious homemade holiday vegan baked goods.

Last, but so not least, for those of us who have lost someone (or more than one someone) special, the season can be especially difficult, but I find comfort in the safety net of my friends who don't even ask when I need a hug, they just give me one.

Any way you slice it, its all pretty good.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Fish Out of Water

I know, I know, I've been a bad blogger, missing a few days too many. My apologies. I was otherwise occupied trekking the frozen tundra the rest of the world knows as the Northeast. I was a fish out of water. I looked like I didn't belong, and I often felt like I didn't belong. My fashion sense was seriously put to the test, being in "civilization" (especially some high-falooting shopping areas) I was thrown back into a world I've left behind of trends, excess, fashion statements, and so on. I live in the Keys, and do not shop at the "in" place anymore (where every "it" may be). I'm ok with that, but I was also not prepared for my thoughts on the amount of what I'll call "excess" I observed. So much of everything surrounded us anywhere we went. Excessive choices, excessive food, excessive noise, excessive crowds, excessive traffic and so forth. I am no longer accustomed that environment, and its another reason this transplanted Jersey Girl felt woefully out of place.

I am sure anyone around me longer than 5 seconds was aware of my difficulty coping with that local weather. Its hard to believe the vast majority of my life was spent in an area which really does get very cold, and sees heavy snow at times. My day of arrival, the thermometer did not crack 30 degrees; that was one of the warmer days. I mentioned before leaving I would be traveling light, that was an understatement of immense proportions. Next time I go somewhere cold, I promise to find gloves better than the teeny tiny pink ones I found in my sock box which do not make it quite up to my wrist. I thought I could handle the cold better than I did. I am humbled by Ma Nature yet again.

The trip started off on an ominous tone. As we were driving up the Keys in heavy traffic, we managed to avoid the death fairy in an auto accident, but I found myself wedged underneath the passenger side dash trying to act like "its ok, I planned that." I didn't plan it, and it did hurt. I took those scrapes and bruises into the entire trip. It was a sign.

Our trip was so over scheduled it was ridiculous. Another mental note is that next trip I think we need the "cone of silence" option in the rental car. By last night, Mr. Happy Vegan and I found ourselves in the throes of quite a hissy fit, which lingered on for far too long and of course snow balled (haha) to epic proportions. It began on the final leg of the driving, 3 hours from one place to another in rain & sleet, finally arriving on someones doorstep just before midnight for our visit. Seriously, this was how tight our schedule was. Midnight. For a visit. We expected we'd be arriving about 10:30pm (already ridiculously late for a visit), but were well over 1 hour late due to poor driving conditions and a directionally impaired driver (I shall not name that person in order to protect HIS identity....) We did our best, they were happy to see us, and we kept it brief. We wanted to stay longer, but obviously didn't. So we found ourselves pulling into a hotel about 1:30am the day of our departure, exhausted, cranky and acting like 2 year olds.

My emotions really did not begin to thaw until just a few hours ago. The ride was pretty quiet the whole way home, and I was minding my own business. In the dark, crossing the 7 mile bridge, at almost the same spot where I found myself dashing into traffic to save a royal tern some 10 days ago, I looked over and saw Christmas lights lit up on a scraggly lone pine tree growing through the concrete of the old 7 mile bridge. Yup, I swear this is true. There is no traffic other than foot traffic allowed on that span, its old, crumbling and there's no way I'd ever walk on it. Not to mention its in the middle of the ocean. Yet, someone thought it would be either a) challenging, b) funny, c) necessary or d) all of the foregoing to put solar powered lights on that tree. I couldn't help but mumble to myself and smile. Only in the Keys, a sight like that.

So, I'm home, I'll post random things about my trip I'm sure in the next few days and weeks. For now, I'm contemplating the whirlwind of the last few days; hoping I don't forget any of the good times, wishing I'll never remember the bad times.

Tis the season...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bad Blogger

Hello friends, I have been a bad blogger. Sorry, its been a few days. Time really does get away from me all too often. How about you, do you have the same problem? Its amplified this time of year, don't you think? We're in full swing of "the holiday season." Parties. Shopping. Eating. Rushing here. Running there. Its easy to find ourselves caught up in things that perhaps we shouldn't devote our precious time too, yet we do. May I offer a suggestion?

Breathe. Yup, that's right, its that simple. Breathe. Feeling stressed about the "to do" list being too long? Stop what you're doing, and walk away from it. Take a breath, then another, and another. Clear your head. Free your mind. Take an extra day off from the blog (!!) Choose your battles. What is more important to you? Really, what is most important to you. Then edit from there.

Find a way to live with things not being so perfect. Maybe that will help you, I can vouch it has helped me. I really did used to have a very different perception of how things "should" be. Instead now I find myself so happy to be with someone I love even for a brief moment; maybe having a piece of (cheeseless!) pizza, or a cup of (organic!) chai. All my changes have come from within, and they are profound. Pull out the finger paints with the kids, yes its messy, but its water based and wipes up with a rag easy enough. Make a craft project, bake some cookies, watch a video, make some popcorn. Its ok to accept that life is messy, and things aren't perfect.

I had a chance this past weekend to slow down. My massage license needed some continuing education units. Those CEU's came in the form of a very nurturing teacher named Pete, with wonderful peers in the class. His teachings were not just academics, rather they came with constant balancing reminders that each of us is important, and really enjoy each fleeting moment. Being the height of a very busy season, what can I say, I took a lot more out of that class than new techniques.

I'm doing my best to slow down a bit more, making do with what I have, not worrying about perfection, but rather just enjoying people, places & experiences. I'm not worrying is my silver polished, or does it matter if my vegetable stock came from a box or from 10 hours of cooking.

I hope you will find a moment today to breathe, smile at the person pumping your gas (oops, there's the Jersey girl in me, does anyone else in this country NOT pump gas besides NJ??), be kind to your sales clerk, and take that extra 6 seconds it might take to be courteous to those you meet today. We've all got something weighing on our own minds, isn't it amazing that a kind word perhaps can make a moment better for the next person's worries? I think so, and besides, it will pay itself forward. This I believe.

Have a peaceful day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cold Feet

Just prior to relocating from the cold zone, I purged my entire winter wardrobe. I had a nice collection of attire, and couldn't wait to donate it to organizations that would make sure somehow it got to people who needed it.

I recently realized my entire shoe collection consists of flip flops, sandals, and island living shoes. Plus, 1 pair of stiletto fashion boots (running shoes don't count)! In the midst of planning a brief visit to the cold zone, I began to panic. Cold feet = unhappy vegan. What's a girl to do? Especially one who at this point despises buying almost anything new, worse yet anything that will be worn for a matter of hours and then likely never again. Well, I'll tell you what this eco-friendly earth momma does, she hits the consignment shops in the area. Unbelievably so, at my first stop right here on Big Pine Key, I scored a never worn pair of adorable, fuzzy, vegan, warm surfer girl boots at the consignment room located within Out of the Blue Gallery. I could not believe my good fortune, and still am pretty much scratching my head on that stroke of luck.

I refuse to buy a coat, and will simply muddle through with a not very warm cape I scored at a vintage shop while I visited another island a couple years ago. I have a non-wool hat that I bought at a local craft show last year knitted by a little old lady who I swear I wished was my grandma, and I have a teeny tiny pair of hot pink gloves that somehow made their way into my sock box. I don't remember buying them, but I sure am glad they're in there.

So, that's pretty much what I've got going for the cold zone. Most likely I will look like a "fish out of water" while I'm up there. Fashion sense may fly out the window down here when the weather turns, but up north its much ado about fashion when the weather turns. My theory on that is this (and I'm allowed to say this because I lived the majority of my life in the cold zone).... that there's not much else going for cold zone wintertime except fashion. So, gals like me cling to the likes of velvet, sparkles and fancy-smanch attire over the cold zone winter. But, I've got a problem, I'm traveling in the teeniest carry on known to humankind, and not only do I have to pack my clothing for this pending trip, but I've got holiday gifts stuffed in there too. At this point in my life, after all the traveling I've done, I do believe I could go away for probably 3 weeks with nothing more than a large handbag, and an 20 inch carry on. Even I'm impressed, considering I used to travel with something akin to a steamer trunk when I'd go away for just a weekend.

No doubt I will be horrified by the weather (I heard it didn't crack 30 today where some of my friends still live), and I may get some stares with my fuzzy Florida Keys after surf (but warm) boots and hot pink gloves. But, I'm a Keys girl now, and when it gets cold, fashion sense no longer applies to me. On the up side, most rental cars up there have heated seats, so I expect I'll make good use of that option.

I'm ready for the trip when it will eventually arrive, but for now, I'm going to soak in what I can of the Keys warmth. Its still too chilly down here for me to be overly excited about the weather, but when I look at the weather map anywhere north of Key Largo, I get the shivers.

I'm hoping for a winter solstice miracle in the form of a heat wave. Nothing hoped for, nothing gained.

Friday, December 3, 2010

No Soup For You

Yesterday I noted how chilly it had gotten down here, waking up to temps in the low 60s. On my "to do" list I added "make soup" as another chore. It didn't work out, and here's my story of why.

I couldn't get warm yesterday, no way, no how. Temps did get into the low 70s (barely), but it wasn't enough to warm me up. Being Tuesday, it was on the "to do" list to take Pop to his club in Marathon to run his twice weekly golf game. On the way back from Marathon, crossing the 7 Mile Bridge in a high speed swath of traffic, something caught my eye. I had just enough time to process "bird, dead bird." As I'm zooming on my way, it clicks in my mind... that bird's eyes were open; she was possibly still alive.

I couldn't turn around, I couldn't stop. If you haven't been on the 7 Mile Bridge, know this: you do not stop on that bridge unless it is an emergency, and you never, never, NEVER turn around on that bridge. It is one lane each way, with an elevation that does rise in the middle for I presume sailboats with large masts, and only has a narrow shoulder. All over 7 miles of open water.

Upon making it to the other side of the bridge, I pulled over, turned around and went right back over the bridge looking for her. By the time I found her, traffic was again plugged behind and in front of me.... and approaching 70mph. I couldn't stop. Audible curses spewed forth. Finishing the trek across the bridge, I whipped around and turned back. Again. This time nothing was going to stop me. I had noted on my last pass that this bird WAS alive, she was trying to move. Dozens of cars were passing her. Certain death loomed.

I was on a mission. By the time I thought I was close to her location, I began to slow down. No one behind me liked that; I put my hazards on and made my best attempt to pull into the shoulder & let as many pass as possible. I came upon the panic stricken bird, she was trying very hard to fly, but couldn't. I thought "broken wing" which even upon rescue is almost certain death. I stopped behind her on the 7 Mile Bridge. May I remind anyone reading this: I am scared of bridges. I'm not kidding about that either. I am really scared of bridges. Which is amazing considering how many bridges I drive over, and how often I do this. I felt the vibrations of the traffic, as well as actual movement of the bridge from the heavy winds. Honestly, my stomach rolled.

I was in Pop's car which meant I did not have any of my rescue stuff with me (a carrier, large towel or 2 and some other useful items are usually stashed in my own car). All I had was the clothes on my back, and good intentions. I dashed through traffic and ripped off my sweatshirt (hooray for remembering to put a tank top on in the early hours of yesterday...) It briefly crossed my mind that I probably looked odd doing what I was doing, yet all cars zipped by, none slowing or offering assistance. I only had seconds to do what I hoped, capture her. I could see she had blood on her beak (car hit?) with one wing dragging. I flung my shirt over her and scooped her up as fast as I could, running back to my car. Other cars still whizzed by in each direction. As soon as I got in the car, I put her on my lap. I did my best to insure her wings were not bent back, and that her head was well covered. Calm, keep calm I said aloud to both of us. Traffic was still heavy, no breaks forthcoming. I plowed back into traffic without hitting anyone or anyone hitting me.

I was heading back across the bridge, so I called Wild Bird Rescue on Big Pine (Maya, remember her?) Answering machine, damn! Left a message, but now this bird is beginning to get fussy. I made a decision to turn around and go back again over the bridge, to the Wild Bird Rescue in Marathon. By the time I called them and gave my E.T.A., Maya had indeed left a message on my voicemail. They were out rescuing pelicans in the ocean, but I could drop the bird in a cage at her site, and a volunteer would be over as soon as possible. I was committed at this point to going to Marathon, I couldn't go back and forth over that bridge again.

I got stuck in construction traffic in Marathon (more audible cursing) and this poor bird, well all I could think was asking aloud for the Universe to keep her calm, and let her heal to fly free again. I made it to the Center. Immediately I learned this bird was called a royal tern. She did not have a broken wing (huge relief), but probably had been hit by a car, hence the disorientation and blood on her beak. She was placed in a quiet spot, and appropriate care was forthcoming.

On my way back from the Center, I got another call from Maya, asking if I could stop at a location where an injured pelican had just been reported. I said of course, and began to think I no longer want to work. I want to volunteer full time and help animals. It would be sad work, but I thought the rewards could carry me through. I stopped at the site of the report, and walked along the shoreline, and then through brush, for about 20 minutes looking for the pelican, really wishing I had on my wader boots. Unfortunately I could not find him. I called Maya to report this, and left the message that perhaps another had already retrieved him, or perhaps he had been able to fly away.

It is not possible at this time in my life to quit working and be a full time volunteer. I will have to accept that I can do only what I can do. I'm going to put together a couple of items to keep in Pop's car for animal emergencies. Its actually amazing that with all the trips he and I have made to Marathon that we haven't had a situation like that sooner. Especially considering that I have made emergency stops in the area before, but they just happened to be while I was in my vehicle or with Mr. Happy Vegan. Thankfully and miraculously.

I don't know how things will turn out for that royal tern. When I got to the bird hospital, I was told "usually I call the police and ask for them to stop traffic when I do a rescue." That was good advice, and some I will not soon forget.

I put aside my anger and frustration that so many other cars had passed this bird and none stopped to help. The first rule of an emergency responder is to assess the situation and do not place yourself at risk, or make a bad situation even worse. Maybe that's why no one else stopped. I don't know though, sitting here right now I am sure I did the right thing. It was a risk I had to take. I am hopeful the tern will heal and fly free again.

The whole ordeal was close to 3 hours because of the drive time back home. If it wasn't so cold yesterday, I never would've put on a sweatshirt, and I don't think I could've helped that tern. So, maybe this cold weather is really important for other reasons too. For now I'm just going wash and re-wear my sweatshirt, then make some tea if I'm still cold. I'll be quiet about the cooler weather. Besides, it will be 80s again next week so I'm told.

No time for soup yesterday, nor today. I've got to revamp our emergency kits, and make one for Pop's car too. Soup can wait.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Miscellaneous Ramblings. Again.

Oh poo, I spoke too soon. Did the Universe interpret my last post as being boastful? I'm sorry Universe, I didn't mean it! The weather suddenly turned cool; cold to me. Woke up to low 60s this morning, BRR! Add the wind on top of that and double, triple & quadruple BRR!

I woke up once again super extra early. I should be done with my run already, but I'm not. I cannot get motivated, I'm too cold!

When I was on vacation in the northeast, it was September. The island I chose was downright frigid at that time, unpleasant 40s upon waking. Twice I attempted runs in that ridiculous cold, didn't happen. The first attempt, after my warm up, my ankle crumpled upon my very first running step. I was not prepared to run in that weather, mentally or physically. The 2nd attempt, well the pain from the crumpled ankle was too much, I retreated back to my home base. So, here I am. Cold. I dug out my decades old chenille robe and only wish I could wear it everywhere I go today.

I hear it will be in the 70s most of the next few days. I shall push my outdoor activities to later in the day to take advantage of the warmth. Last night, we went to No Name Pub for our friend Cindy's birthday celebration. Most of us showed up in long sleeves, jackets, long pants, and wise Bonnie even had her boots on. It was about 70 degrees..... so many of us should simply be called "tender foot." We had good food, and I brought a birthday cake for Cindy that I made to order for her.... lemon cake with lemon icing, her favorite.

I think birthdays are way more fun down here. I made a comment last night that I felt age was irrelevant living down here. Someone commented back they didn't necessarily agree because I was one of the "youngers" at the table (ha and how refreshingly unusual!) But I did my best to explain it this way... down here, the people I meet are amazing. I do not measure someone by the state of their career, how may degrees they may hold, or any other ways one can calculate someones age by figuring the math of work & education history. It was not like that in the environment I used to be in, rather it was quite different. I think I've expressed that on my writings here, and I think my life today stands as an example of my thinking this way. So, I do really feel that age is irrelevant, I finally realized that living here. Maybe if I got picked up and transported anywhere else I would think differently, perhaps not. Being surrounded by the nature and the people here has changed me, very much so, for the better. When its someones birthday, I don't wonder how old they are. I think what can I bake, how can we celebrate, how can the time best be filled. That's all I wonder, and maybe that's why I surprised even myself this year and embraced my own Virgo time.

I hope I get inspired for my exercise later. Today I've got a chore list as long as my right arm, now I've got to add another chore.... make soup. Don't care what kind, I'll rummage in the fridge and see what's there. If I time this just right, it will be ready & waiting after I trudge through the snow drifts later on today....