Monday, April 21, 2014

My recent reading list has consisted of. . .

What do you do if you don't have tv? A friend just asked that question the other day. In unison we both said "read books" only their statement ended with a question mark and mine ended with an exclamation point.

The truth is I'd given up watching tv months before I moved out of the house and into The Glampette. While traveling last year I realized I was much happier, more balanced, and more productive without the distraction.

When I was younger I was a voracious reader. Over the years I continued to read but reading time was relegated to while I was riding buses, at the laundromat, or flying on a plane. Now? I read almost every day both in the trailer and sometimes while waiting in my car since I often toss the book I'm reading into my purse when I leave for the day.

Currently I've been reading books recommended to me by friends and readers here on the blog. With the rough patch I've been going through they've guided me to books they feel will help me though my current challenges.

My dear friend Tracy not only recommended this book, she sent it to me as a gift. "Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar" is my kind of advice column. As gentle and nurturing as it is brutally honest the book is a collection of old and new columns from Cheryl Strayed's stint as the advice columnist of "The Rumpus." Her replies are often shocking in their perspectives, the kinds of things you may think to yourself but would never say aloud. In the trials and tribulations of her readers it's easy to find strength in yourself as you realize you can be just as strong and resilient as Strayed encourages her readers to be.

BTW, Tracy is the same friend who sent me Cheryl Strayed's other book "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" that I reviewed a few months ago. It also resonated with me because even though she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail on her own with virtually no experience, the solitude she sought and found was as healing to her as the 13,000 miles The Glampette took me last year.

I won't tell you who recommended Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" to me because he said he would deny being the one who recommended it :) He'd hate to blow his tough guy image buy admitting he reads and recommends Maya Angelou, or more accurately that he first learned of her while watching Oprah. LOL

I've been aware of Dr. Angelou for many years but have to admit this was the first time I'd read one of her books. A noted author, poet, and women's rights advocate she is a voice for Black American women who broke social barriers by sharing her story in "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." The book is about what it was like to grow up in the deep south and many of the struggles she faced, endured, and overcame up to the age of 17. That she had the courage to rise above things that had happened to her is inspiration enough for anyone to not allow circumstances to dictate their character, that one can face ugliness and not become cynical, bitter, or evil themselves.

I'm glad my friend recommended this book. I did find strength in it and look forward to reading more books by Dr. Angelou.

The most recent book I finished was unlike any book I'd read before. "Women Who Run With the Wolves" (written by Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs, Ph. D. a Jungian analyst) was recommended to me in a private message by Lee, a reader of this blog. It wasn't an easy read by any  means. It took months to finish partly because I had to stop reading (far more often than usual) to look up definitions to words like analysands, endarkenment, umbilici, zygote, and anathema. But the effort was worth it.

At first I was confused, then I began to see why Lee had suggested it to me. When I got to around page 200 I knew without a shadow of a doubt why she had written to me. She had seen the "Wild Woman" in my blog postings and knew, without knowing me, the book would resonate with me deeply as I am currently actively on a journey both internally and externally.

The book focuses on the existence, neglect, and revitalization of women's intuition, our instinctual nature, and how the stories handed down from the past are in fact lessons and affirmations that can be drawn from to learn how to find, nurture, and preserve the wild nature that exists in each of us.

If you are a determined reader who wants to follow the road less traveled, the path inward to find and enrich your spirit, your very soul, you will make it through this book too. Don't rush. Take your time. Understand and absorb the author's message.

Lee thank you for the suggestion. I'm glad I found out about this book and plan to read it again, several more times. In many ways it reminded me of when I read the book "Awakening to the Sacred" by Lama Surya Das. The themes of the books are different but at the same time as I read I kept thinking to myself or even saying aloud "My people" or "Yes, that's me!" For me, reading about psychology or religion has less to do with the societal perception of the institutions and far more to do with how I as an individual can apply and relate to the parts of them that make me feel more whole, help me to find my inner strength, and guide me in the right direction to find contentment and balance.

If you have any books you think I would enjoy reading please tell me about them. I'm always looking for new things to read that will inspire me to continue on facing life's challenges with an open mind, optimism, and fortitude. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's been four weeks since you left me

Dear Kitai,

Today marks the fourth week since the day you left me.

There have been good days and bad days but every day is a day that I miss you. Sometimes I look at the place where I know you would have been sitting at that moment and my heart breaks a little more again. But I have made progress in dealing with my grief. I've finally quelled the urge to talk to you in the trailer and car. I can now make breakfast without tearing up because you're not there to share my egg with. I can even pet other dogs without tearing up.

Imagine my surprise when I went to my PO  Box and found these beautiful pendants my friend Cheryl had made and sent to me as a surprise using the photos that Ellie Stone had taken of us shortly before you died. Cheryl had taken the photos and turned them into necklaces.

They also double as small pictures of us I can display in the trailer at all times. Which is really nice because space is at such a premium it's hard to find somewhere to actually hang a picture.

I've worn one every day since she sent them to me. I love that not only are you in my heart, I can look down and see you near my heart as well.

One night just over a week ago I was sleeping in The Glampette when I heard you bark your alert (you just saw something suspicious) bark outside the trailer. I woke up immediately and listened for you again. I only heard silence as the first light of day was breaking through the sky. I sat in the dark and felt both sad and comforted. I know I was probably dreaming but I took it as a sign that you are near me, watching over me. All I have to do is believe.

I was doing ok processing the grief but recently took a step backwards...

Together again in The Glampete

Last week I picked up your ashes. I held it together until I stepped outside the building. Tears flowed as I walked you out to the car. I'd set you in the front seat when the Fed Ex lady (who had been behind me in the office exited the building and instead of returning to her truck) walked over to console me. She was so sweet and caring. A dog lover too, she told me about losing her dog and how hard she knows it is. We hugged and I sat with you in the car until I'd composed myself enough to drive safely.

I needed to stop at my PO Box. Little did I know how it was exactly the right thing to do at exactly the right moment. I wasn't expecting anything special yet special is what I found. Two sympathy cards, with gifts included, and a thank you card. 

The thank you card was from a woman whose hit-and-run accident I had witnessed five days before you died. Remember? We were on our way to the Vet's office for your last blood draw when I not only saw the accident, I surreptitiously followed the hit-and-run vehicle long enough to get a photo of it and its license plate at a red light to give to the police. The victim got my address off of the police report and sent me a thank you for getting involved. So sweet. She did suffer what I hope was only a minor injury. The owner of the vehicle has been located but not the driver. I hope they catch him soon.

One of the sympathy cards was from my friend Cheryl, She had made me a new larger pendant, a Memory Tag, with your name, birth and death dates, and "Forever Loved" on the back. I'm going to try to figure out a way to attach this tag to your box of ashes.

I also received a book titled "Animals on the Other Side" from Laura, a friend of my friend Michelle. I've never met Laura but she is also a pet lover with a lot of empathy. When Michelle told her about Kitai and I she visited my blog then sent this very special gift. I read it and took comfort in it. There's a story there I'm saving for another day.

I've found there is much comfort to be had here in California, on the phone, and online. I swear I have the best and biggest safety net of people who have all reached out with open arms to catch and support me now that I'm on my own without you. 

Some days are easier than others. For now I just focus on getting through each one without you. The pendants are helping. Just like the first moment I saw them they can bring me to tears that are usually tears of joy, not sadness. For now and forever I will hold you in my heart my sweet little boy. I hope you are already off on a new adventure since you were always nosy and had a wanderlust that I now seem to have caught as well. Soon I will move on to a new city and state but I'll be bringing you with me both in my heart and the trailer. 

If there is a dog heaven I know what you are doing. Squeak the toys, chase the balls, and play and wrestle with the other dogs eating treats and hot dogs whenever you want them. 

I miss you and love you Kitai, you were not only the cutest dog ever, you were my best friend.

If you are interested in ordering one of Cheryl's pendants send me your contact info with a note about them and I will forward your information to Cheryl.

Updates on Kitai's Condition:

What was left of my heart is being put to the test - February 10, 2014

Kitai Update: Lymphoma and Prednisone - February 13, 2014

True Love: A girl and her dog - February 21, 2014

Kitai Update: Looking for signs - February 26, 2014

Kitai Update: Hanging in there - March 9, 2014

Kitai is almost out of time - March 17, 2014

A once in a lifetime dog. . . RIP Kitai - March 19, 2014

It's been four weeks since you left me - April 15, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring, cherry blossom, Japanese confections

I visited J.Sweets, a Japanese confectionary shop located in the Mitsuwa market at the intersection of Saratoga Ave. and Moorpark in San Jose, CA.

What caught my eye immediately was a plethora of beautiful spring "Sakura" mochi. Sakura is Japanese for cherry blossom. The delicate mochi and manju were tinted in shades of pink sticky rice, cake, or sweet bean paste. Some even contained edible cherry blossoms and/or leaves.

The desserts themselves are also known as "wagashi." Wagashi are a wide variety of Japanese confections that represent Japanese culture. In Japan it is common to reflect the four seasons (not holidays) in both home decor and food so I wasn't surprised to see spring confections in the shops display cases.

You select the different types you want and they are placed in a thin cardboard, elegant ivory patterned box and sealed shut with a brown sticker. The selections here were priced between $3.00 - $4.00 per piece. They're so beautiful, elegant, and delicious. I will have to pick some up to take a friend's house for dinner next week as I'd offered to bring dessert with me.

They're almost too pretty to eat. I love the way they're packaged to maximize either the beauty of the dessert itself or beautiful packaging artwork that carries over the spring theme.

Imported from Japan I ended up choosing all of the desserts from the Minamoto Kitchoan selections. Here are the wagashi I chose with the descriptions as written in-store:

Sakura Mochi

"Mochi filled with sweet smooth red bean paste wrapped in an edible cherry blossom leaf and flower."

The glutinous sticky rice outer layer had a wonderful translucence to it allowing the red bean paste to peek through. The blossom definitely had a floral flavor to it the same way lavender candy or rose water tastes like a flower.

Oka Shigure

"Cherry blossom colored sweet bean paste in a steamed sweet bean cake. A petal shaped bean jelly on top."

This was my favorite of the four. Delicate and beautiful the steamed cake outer layer was very tender and not doughy at all. The bean paste filling was duo tones with the center pink layer wrapped in a layer of white bean paste, then tucked into the steamed layer of cake. The small pink petal on top is a bean jelly and, imo, should be savored on its own.

Sakura Goromo

"Sweet red bean and soft mochi wrapped in a cherry blossom colored Fukusa crepe."

This delicate crepe confection is so ethereal it seemed a shame to even open the package and eat it. It also had a bean jelly decoration though instead of a petal it was an entire sakura blossom shape.

Sakura Daifuku

"Pink colored mochi with sweet white beans paste mixed with chopped cherry blossom flower."

And tough I've had pink mochi with a white bean paste filling many times in the past the Sakura Daifuku was different in two ways:

1. The mochi contained bits of chopped cherry blossoms
2. The bean paste filling was more smooth and creamy than any other mochi I'd had in the past

675 Saratoga Avenue (inside the Mitsuwa Marketplace)
San Jose, CA 95129


Company website: J.Sweets
San Jose Location: On Facebook

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tap, tap, tap went the bird attacking my window

It's no wonder I have a hard time sleeping in. Three mornings ago, just a bit after 6:00 AM I heard a tap, tap, tap on my trailer. At first I couldn't figure out what it was.

Suddenly, I noticed a little bird sitting outside the window, pecking at it with its tiny beak. It would flit from one side of the trailer to the other, battering its wings against the glass before grabbing hold of the window frame as a perch and peck, peck, pecking the tinted glass over and over again... For over an hour!

I wasn't certain but figured it must be mating season and this male Dark-eyed Junco was attempting to ward off an encroaching male, aka himself as the bird he was seeing each time he saw his own reflection in the window glass. It would also drop down and peck at the trailer's hubcaps. A bit of research on Google and my suspicions were confirmed. At first it was really cool but, after a while, it was equally annoying.

Here's a video if you'd like to hear what it sounded like.

Even when I opened the curtains and tapped back on the glass it didn't frighten him away for more than a few seconds.

Eventually I laid my rain tarp over the trailer sideways and lashed it down. I was beginning to be concerned that the bird's beak would damage the tint on the windows. That did the trick.  But the next morning again a little after 6:00 AM came tap, tap, tap...

I thought covering the windows would be enough... But he remembered the interloper at my wheels.

Over and over he would go from side to side of the trailer and fly towards my baby moon hubcaps. . .

As he neared the "other" bird he would raise his feet and strike with his tiny talons and his beak. Like this. . .

The next morning I had to cover the hubcaps with fabric. That did the trick. Hopefully he'll move on, find a mate, or as the article I linked to says, his hormones will drop and he'll become less aggressive/territorial.

Still, it was neat (almost a little magical) to have a tiny bit of wild nature come so close. At least this bird wasn't nearly as loud as the Mocking Bird that kept me up for nights on end years ago. It's not legal to capture or harm a wild bird so I'll leave the tarp up for a few days to dissuade the little guy from returning. If not I'll have to try a few more suggestions I found online of how to stop my new feathered aggressor from attacking The Glampette.

Never a dull moment :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Creamy, dreamy Forte High Protein Gelato

When I received an email asking if I'd like to sample a complimentary order of Forte High Protein Gelato. . .

They had me at Gelato :)

I replied back that I would especially after noticing this description on the company's website:

"Each 4 fl oz perfectly portioned cup contains an amazing 15 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat and only 160 calories."

Forte is made with rBST-free skim milk, rBST-free cream, cage-free egg yolks and organic agave nectar. Our proprietary formula is fortified with pure, rBST-free milk protein, which gives Forte 5X the protein of traditional gelato or ice cream and even more protein than Greek yogurt!

High protein and low fat (2.5 grams) and calories (160) sounded great especially after peeking around online and realizing that one of my favorite ice creams contains 8x the fat (20 grams) and double the calories (320) for a similar sized serving. And because it's an artificial growth hormone given to cows, as a conscious consumer the lack of rBST is something I always look for and prefer in any product that contains dairy.

A great feature? I didn't even have to go to the store to pick some up, it showed up in a styrofoam shipping container at my door. Well, my friend's door since The Glampette doesn't have a street address.

Forte Gelato comes packed with enough dry ice that you don't even have to be home to receive the UPS 2nd day air package. They can leave it on your porch, in full sun in my case, and when I got there hours later everything was still frozen. In fact, the dry ice was still frozen over 24 hours later.

There were four flavors: Espresso, Vanilla, Ginger, and Chocolate.

They came with three containers of two flavors wrapped in plastic bags tied with raffia bows.

I have to say I was shocked. I didn't expect so many containers. Usually when people offer you a sample of something the quantity is very minimal. The nice thing was I was able to share my gelato with friends so this review isn't based solely on my opinion.

Each of the four flavors arrived nice and frozen with the cartons in good condition. The texture of the gelato was equally rich, smooth, and creamy and the flavors stood on their own. The vanilla was classic, the chocolate tasted like a malted milk chocolate, and the ginger was surprisingly clean and refreshing. If you like ice cream/gelato/frozen yogurt but not overly sweet flavors, try the ginger.

My personal favorite was the espresso. It's one of those coffee things I can really get into because it tastes the way a cup of coffee smells. It was delicious. Real coffee flavor but missing was the harsh bitterness I taste every time I've ever tried drinking coffee. And it was oh so rich and creamy.

With spring here, blue skies, and the weather already in the 70's it turned out to be a perfect time to enjoy Forte Gelato for the first, but certainly not my last, time.

If you're curious to try some too you can order it direct to your door from Forte's online store at this LINK.

Disclosure: Though I occasionally receive complimentary products the fact that they were given to me never sways my review of any product. I sample, photograph, and write the blog post based on my own experience. In cases where the review is partially or fully negative I do give the company the option to decline the post be published meaning they have to accept the review as is or not at all. In eight years of blogging this has only happened once. In every case but one the company has acknowledged the review, even though partially negative, is fair and have asked me to publish my post as is.