Monday, January 26, 2009

The Year of the Ox ~ Happy Chinese New Year!

The Ox is the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. I wished my Mom Happy Chinese New Year today. She spent about 3 1/2 years in China in the early 1980's teaching English as a Second Language to college students in China ~ I'm so proud of her accomplishments! Thinking about how difficult, and rewarding, her life was during that time period and the industriousness and determination of the Chinese people jogged my memory of a photojournalism project that I worked on in San Francisco, California's Chinatown a couple of years ago and I thought I would share some of those photographs here. I loved this colorful dragon that was hanging in the stairwell of a little mall of shops.

Everyone in this park was focused on the speaker, and the neighborhood was deserted...but this gentleman had errands to run and nothing was going to deter him!

This street musician was playing sweet music while he was calmly watching the world go by.

This gentleman was shouting at the top of his lungs "Wake Up America" and gesticulating wildly! I was fascinated that not one person was paying him any attention, just a sea of people ignoring him!
Chinatown is overwhelmingly colorful!

The beautiful Transamerica building as seen from a street in Chinatown.
So I wish you all a very healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ham Tongue

We adopted a very sweet cat about 10 months ago from the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. I really went to look for a dog, but when I went by the cage where she had spent 6 weeks of her life, she reached her paw out through the bars toward me and I was unable to go any further. She has gained about 3 pounds since she came to live with us, and her fur is shiny and healthy now. She loves to chase a laser light for exercise, and she is very affectionate. She has added immensely to our lives as a source of love, and also of entertainment. Here she is posing with what I call ~ "Ham Tongue". Most of the cats that I have had the pleasure of sharing my home with over the years have had ham tongue on occasion. What makes me laugh so hard is that they have no idea that their tongue has gotten stuck in the "out" position, and has temporarily dried there. They continue to look at you with a haughty expression of mild distain while you are cracking up. Which, of course, makes me laugh even harder!

Does your cat ever get Ham Tongue? If you don't have a cat, please consider adopting one from a local shelter. Or, if you aren't able to adopt one, please consider giving a small donation to help out with expenses at a no-kill shelter. They do wonderful work and can always use a little help :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Grandfather Frost and the Snowmaiden

On January 7th the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. Due to the suppression of religion during the Soviet regime after the 1917 Revolution, St. Nicholas was replaced by Ded Moroz or "Grandfather Frost", the Russian Spirit of Winter who brought gifts on New Year's. He is accompanied by Snyegurochka, the "Snowmaiden", and she helps to distribute the gifts.

My family celebrated Russian Christmas a number of times over the years. When we returned to school after the Christmas holiday break we were always asked the question "What did you get for Christmas" - it was fun to still be anticipating opening gifts! In the Orthodox tradition nothing is eaten or drunk on Christmas Eve until the first star appears in the sky. One of my favorite memories is of a coffee cake that my Mom used to make. It was so light and delicious, especially after fasting! Here is the recipe:

Russian Christmas Coffee Cake

2 ½ cups flour
2 sticks butter (½ lb)
2 cups sour cream (1 pint)
3 unbeaten eggs
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup sugar
4 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Cream together sugar and margarine. Mix in the sour cream. Add the unbeaten eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Combine the flour mixture gradually into the butter and egg mixture. The dough will become stiff. Spoon half the dough into a well-greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Mix together the topping ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, and nuts. Sprinkle 3/4 of the topping/filling over the first half of the dough. Add the remaining dough and sprinkle on the rest of the topping. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Cool 1 hour before removing from the pan.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Raven's Invitation

A few days ago I was treated to a unique experience on Highway 74 at a viewpoint overlooking Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. It was 7:00 am and I had driven up the mountain a bit to enjoy the new snowfall.

The turnout was deserted except for a single large raven who seemed very curious that I had arrived with my camera. He flew over me, I think to impress me with the size of his wingspan, and landed nearby. He looked me right in the eye and started to make some loud clicking noises (almost like he was snapping his beak together) and his head would bob up and down - trying to tell me something. I got very close to this beautiful bird and he seemed to enjoy it, always looking me right in the eye and we spent about 10 minutes communicating with each other. Then he flew up, circled me once, and landed on the parapet to enjoy the view.

He made another series of very loud clicking noises, motioning with his head, inviting me to come closer. Then he kept motioning with his wing as though he wished me to enjoy the view with him!

In the 1960s, neurologist Stanley Cobb found that ravens have among the largest brains of any birds, as well as a relatively high number of brain cells. Natural history author Candace Savage writes:
“Crows, ravens, magpies, and jays are not just feathered machines, rigidly programmed by their genetics. Instead, they are beings that, within the constraints of their molecular inheritance, make complex decisions and show every sign of enjoying a rich awareness.” My friendly raven was definitely enjoying a rich awareness of the beauty of this day, and I'm happy I got to share this experience with him!