America’s Burdens (as Defined by Mark Twain)

“San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in ‘the States’ rear with such patient care in parlor flowerpots and greenhouses flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses—I do not know the names of a tenth part of them.

I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow….”

— Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter LVI

Images: 1.) The blizzard of 1888, New York (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain). 2.) Flowers and a roadside mural near Fresno, California, 1980 (Carol Highsmith, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

 

 

 

The Music and Poetry of Nature

“…. And then, as Charity rises to her knees to help us to more, she freezes, tilts her head, and makes a shushing motion with her free hand. ‘Oh, listen. Listen!’

A sound like a big crowd a good way off, excited and shouting, getting closer. We stand up and scan the empty sky. Suddenly there they are, a wavering V headed directly over the hilltop, quite low, beating southward down the central flyway and talking as they pass. We stay quiet suspending our human conversation until their garulity fades and their wavering lines are invisible in the sky.

They have passed over us like an eraser over a blackboard, wiping away whatever was there before they came.”

― Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text Excerpt: From Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. To read the full novel, click here.

Photos: 1.) “Forming A V”; 2.) “Double V”; and 3.) “Catching Up” (geese flying over Heather Farm Park, Walnut Creek, California, ©Laurie Snyder, 2019; all rights reserved).

 

Wednesday Wisdom: To Infinity and Beyond — The Eternal Embrace of Stargazing

“Tonight I walk. I am watching the sky. I think of the people who came before me and how they knew the placement of stars in the sky, watched the moving sun long and hard enough to witness how a certain angle of light touched a stone only once a year.

Without written records, they knew the gods of every night, the small, fine details of the world around them and of immensity above them.”

— Linda Hogan, Walking

Photo: Stargazing, Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service, public domain).

 

 

Increased Mindfulness Linked to Decreased Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptom Levels

“Mindfulness helps us relate to our thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms in a different way…. Over time, people who are more mindful can buffer their stresses, and that may have a more beneficial impact on the body.”

—Lauren A. Zimmaro, PhD

“Mindfulness is a good resource for dealing with the physical and psychological symptoms of metastatic breast disease,” according to Lauren Zimmaro, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with the Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Zimmaro reported this hopeful news for breast cancer patients in the fall of 2019, based on the findings of a recent research study at Fox Chase involving 64 women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). As part of this study, the participants completed questionnaires which evaluated the potential efficacy of mindfulness—“the ability to keep the mind focused on the present moment”—in reducing a range of common MBC symptoms, including: anxiety, depression or other forms of psychological distress; fatigue; sleep disturbance; and pain—both in terms of both severity and its interference with a patient’s ability to function.

For more information about this important research news, read the full article on the Cancer Research Report site.

 

Image: Woman meditating at sunset (public domain).

 

 

Meditation Mondays: Regaining a Feeling of Belonging

Milky Way Galaxy as seen over the La Silla Observatory in Chile (NASA, public domain; image: ESO/B. Tafreshi).

 

“I stand on the deck of my cottage, looking at the sky full of God’s children, and know that I am one of them.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, A Sky Full of Children

 

Meditation Activity:

  1. Dress comfortably, but warmly enough for the weather you will experience when you leave your home.
  2. Walk outside, and find a dark, quiet spot on your deck or in your backyard where you can easily see the stars and planets without interference from artificial lights. (If you live somewhere where this isn’t possible, try driving to a park or other public space where there is less light pollution. Just be sure that the spot you pick is safe enough for you to be able to meditate without risking your physical safety.)
  3. Once you’ve chosen the perfect spot, stand comfortably and begin to breathe deeply and slowly to center yourself. Breathe in to the count of four, hold for four, breathe out to the count of four, and rest for four. Then repeat as many times as you need until you feel your heartbeats slow and your relaxation begin to deepen.
  4. As you begin to go deeper, allow your senses to become mindful of your surroundings.
  5. Then, gaze skyward, and seek out a planet or cluster of stars, and ponder the words above by Madeleine L’Engle.
  6. Continue stargazing and breathing deeply until you feel a similar connection.

 

Supersoul Sunday: Bringing Light to a World in Darkness

 

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.”

Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest who was hanged for resisting the policies of Nazi Germany during World War II

 

“One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”

— Comparative religion and mythology professor Joseph Campbell in conversation with journalist Bill Moyers

 

Image: Lektüre_bei_Kerzenlicht, Petrus van Schendel, 1870 (-public domain).

 

 

Everest Kitchen: A Worthwhile Parking Trek for a Memorable Mountain of Momos

Chicken Momos with tomato-sesame chutney, Everest Kitchen, Albany, California. (©Laurie Snyder, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Consider the dumpling. A staple of home cooking the world over, this lump of dough, at its outset, becomes an edible hug passed between the creator and the consumer when fashioned into a rounded or squared container filled with seasoned meat, cheese, or vegetables. Whether a pierogi prepared in a tiny kitchen in Poland, one of dozens of heavenly gnocchi shaped by the hands of a skilled chef at a high end restaurant in New York City, six pot stickers squeezed into a takeout carton at your favorite Chinese buffet, or a momo molded by a mom in Tibet or Nepal, the dumpling’s power comes chiefly from the love and care infusing it.

And nowhere is that love and care more evident than at the San Francisco Bay Area’s Everest Kitchen, which was visited recently by The Contemplative Traveler©™. Located along “the Solano Stroll” in Albany, California (near Berkeley), the popular dining spot is one of several “Himalayan-style” restaurants which have opened in the Bay Area over the past two decades. Featuring authentic Nepalese and Indian cuisine, Sanjeev Dhungel’s Everest Kitchen is known for the fresh ingredients it employs in multiple mouthwatering menu items, the most addicting of which are its craveable, inexpensive momos.

It has also distinguished itself for its attentive, friendly customer service, which consistently receives four and five stars on Yelp and other restaurant review platforms thanks to wait staff who not only deliver service with a smile, but who somehow manage to remember the unique preferences of the restaurant’s numerous individual, regular customers.

Daal Soup, Everest Kitchen, Albany, California. (© Laurie Snyder, 2019. All rights reserved._

Arriving for an early lunch in order to beat the usual influx of patrons who pour in after 1 p.m., The Contemplative Traveler©™ was greeted and quickly escorted to a window view table. Given ample time to mull Everest Kitchen’s sizeable menu over a cup of tea, her order was then taken and served promptly.

She began her dining experience with Everest Kitchen’s version of Daal, a gluten free, vegan, lentil soup which had the consistency of a puree rather than a thicker stew. Although not “chunky,” the portion was generous and surprisingly filling with a texture and mild seasoning comparable to that of a comforting split-pea soup. The Daal was accompanied by a healthy serving of warm naan (a thick, soft bread similar to pita or flatbread).

Next up was an order of Everest Kitchen’s celebrated chicken momos. An eight-piece, artistic presentation of half moon-shaped, steamed dumplings packed with minced chicken, chives, green onion, and seasonal spices, this Nepali dish was served with a side of tomato-sesame chutney. On first impression, the momo taste seemed light to moderately spicy, but after dumpling number three, The Contemplative Traveler©™ began to “feel some heat.”

Chicken Momos (stuffing view), Everest Kitchen, Albany, California. (©Laurie Snyder, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Barely making it through half of the offering (due to the very generous nature of the portion size rather than the seasoning), The Contemplative Traveler©™ ultimately put her fork down in surrender, sufficiently stuffed and comforted. Unwilling to let a single, scrumptious speck go to waste, however, she asked for a to-go box—the contents of which were quickly devoured the next day. (Note: Although the momos weren’t TOO spicy for The Contemplative Traveler©™, diners who don’t fare well with zesty foods might experience a bit of discomfort if finishing the entire eight-piece dish. As for readers who consider themselves to be “some like it hot” diners, wait staff are reportedly happy to ask the chef to kick things up a notch or two.)

The off-peak atmosphere was relaxing, the food divine. This is a restaurant worth returning to time and again for those who enjoy combining mindfulness with great food at an unbeatable price.

Cost:

  • Daal Soup: $5.00 (suitable for diners who avoid spicy foods)
  • Chicken Momos (8 pieces): $10.00

Everest Kitchen (exterior), Albany, California. (©Laurie Snyder, 2019. All rights reserved.)

If You Go:

Everest Kitchen
1150 Solano Avenue, Albany, California
(510) 679-5079
Website: http://everestkitchenalbany.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Everestkitchenca/

Open every day (except Tuesdays) from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and again from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Peaceful, soothing ambience during off-peak dining experiences. Challenging parking during peak times, but worth circling to find a spot.

 

Avian Airport

Avian Airstrip, © Laurie Snyder, 2019. All rights reserved.

Avian Airport
By Laurie Snyder

Sated by their first light feast on soccer field grass,
They begin aligning themselves for takeoff,
This park-dwelling flock of geese,
Now more Californian than Canadian.

Disparaged all too often as damnable dung factories
Or merely uninteresting by the most unmindful of eyes,
They are comforting by their very presence and predictability—
A gift to those looking up from soul-snatching smart phones.

Blood pressures drop; breaths slow and deepen
As the senses reignite, sparked by the crisp fall air
And the recognition that workday woes are ephemeral
When compared with the agelessness of avian activity.

Bath and Breakfast, © Laurie Snyder, 2019. All rights reserved.

A daily round of ups and downs,
Punctuated by bath breaks, buffets and
Mother Nature’s waterfowl counterpart to the catnap,
The lives of geese are simple and sure.

No jockeying for promotion, or yearning for work-life balance,
No deadlines or drama, prompting questions about self-worth,
Just steady, Zen-like routine, inspiring
Confidence that life is good and unfolding as it should be.

Ah! But just when we think we’ve discovered life’s secret,
A teachable moment arrives with the new day’s dawn.

This morning’s takeoff—not so smooth;
Wingmen pulling up sharply, banking away,
Startled; aborting ascents, mid-air
As crows invade gander airspace,
Murdering the flight path
While grounding other departures.

It seems that, while consistency may be comforting,
Only the attentive and adaptable survive.

 

Poetry and Photographs: Laurie Snyder, © 2019. All rights reserved.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Take Time to Praise the Sights and Sounds of Autumn

I speak this poem now with grave and level voice
In praise of autumn, of the far-horn-winding fall.

I praise the flower-barren fields, the clouds, the tall
Unanswering branches where the wind makes sullen noise.

I praise the fall: it is the human season.
Now
No more the foreign sun does meddle at our earth,
Enforce the green and bring the fallow land to birth,
Nor winter yet weigh all with silence the pine bough,

But now in autumn with the black and outcast crows
Share we the spacious world: the whispering year is gone….

— Archibald MacLeish, “Immortal Autumn” (excerpt)

 

Source (MacLeish poem excerpt): Archibald MacLeish, “Immortal Autumn,” in Collected Poems 1917-1982. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1952. Copyright ©1985 by The Estate of Archibald MacLeish. (For the full text of this poem, please visit the Poetry Foundation’s page for “Immortal Autumn.”)

Source (crow photo): “Murder at Breakfast, v. 1,” (Walnut Creek, California, October 2019). Copyright ©2019 by Laurie Snyder. All rights reserved.

 

 

Community and Comfort Food: Ed’s Mudville Grill, Clayton, California

Sports jerseys brighten the interior of Ed’s Mudville Grill in Clayton, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present).

A winner since its debut in the 1990s, Ed’s Mudville Grill couldn’t help being a San Francisco Bay Area success story. Following two years of planning and preparation by Ed Moresi and his wife Stephanie, the popular sports bar opened in Clayton, California in 1994. Ed Moresi, who had previously spent nearly 20 years at Skipolini’s Pizza, understood the restaurant business inside and out. And his wife Stephanie and their sons Dominic and Nicholas instinctively knew how to make their customers feel like they were part of their family — a tradition which continues today under the leadership of Dominic, who took over as general manager in June of 2007. (Baseball-loving Nicholas was signed the year before by the Houston Astros.)

A quarter of a century later, customers are still greeted warmly by wait staff as they step onto the old West-style boardwalk that rings the perimeter of the Mudville Grill and its adjacent businesses, and are ushered to indoor or outdoor tables, depending on individual diner preferences and seating availability. Patrons include kids popping in after school for fries and a coke, families sitting down for solid, healthy dinners or, later in the evenings, singles swinging by for nights out with their pals.

A large, diverse menu with appetizers ranging from Bavarian soft pretzels to calamari, macho nachos, and potato skins; chili burgers, onion rings, and other old-school sports bar standouts; brisket and pulled pork sandwiches from the grill’s smokehouse menu; and healthier fare such as salmon sandwiches, salads and turkey burgers, keeps customers coming back again and again — and again. Even soccer moms can depend on support — thanks to a “Little Leaguer’s” menu that serves up “Eddie Spaghetti,” grilled cheese, chicken strips, and tummy-warming mac ‘n’ cheese.

Giant Dawg with onions and peppers, fries, and a Stella Artois beer, Ed’s Mudville Grill, Clayton, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present).

So, when The Contemplative Traveler©™ paid a visit to Ed’s Mudville Grill one recent afternoon, she wasn’t looking for mindful dining so much as relief from the relentless sun. Utterly parched, she opted for inside seating and immediately ordered a tall, cold glass of Stella Artois, a pale, Belgian beer which remains one of the most popular thirst quenchers worldwide since it was created by Sebastian Artois. A Brew Master with the Leuven Brewers’s Guild, Artois had presented the smooth, golden lager as a Christmas gift to his fellow Leuven residents during the early 1700s, christening it “Stella” (the Latin name for “star”).

Surrounded by large screen TVs while seated directly to the right of a small shrine to baseball great Joe DiMaggio (and increasingly refreshed by each sip of her Stella as she mulled over the grill’s surprisingly large number of appetizers and entrées), The Contemplative Traveler©™ quickly got into the sports bar spirit of her visit. Ordering from the menu’s Dawg Pound section , she selected the Giant Dawg, a half-pound, bacon-wrapped Wrigley-style hot dog, which came with grilled onions and peppers on the side, as well as fries. Thanks to the staff’s efficient food preparation and service, the dog presented the perfect, bite-after-bite snap, offering up a juicy inside with rich flavor amplified by the bacon, grilled onions, and peppers. And the fries had that “stadium fry” taste that makes even the heartiest of sports fans forget there’s a game in progress. But it was the amount of food, deceptively small on the large platter, which delivered the biggest surprise. Huge and rib-sticking, the portion sizes created the pleasant, “I’ll just linger over my comfort food, resting between bites while I watch the game” experience that truly is only ever found at a Cheers type of establishment where “everybody knows your name” and the owners and their staff are “always glad you came.

If You Go:
Ed’s Mudville Grill
6200 Center Street
Clayton, California
(925) 673-0333

Hours: Typically open daily by 11:00 a.m.

Cost: Appetizers range between $6 and $11; salads between $6 and $15; sandwiches between $8 and $13; and burgers and other entrées between $12 and $16.

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