Archive for December, 2011

The Giving List – 2011 Edition

One of my favorite holiday stories is the O’Henry short story THE GIFT OF THE MAGI. The story says so much in such a short space and for me has always represented the spirit of the season.

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents…Here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest…” ~ O”Henry THE GIFT OF THE MAGI.

This seemed the most fitting way to introduce you to something I have been very excited to display here – my second annual Giving List.

I have had a life-altering year in 2011, one that exceeded my every dream, and at the same time in the gentlest way helped wake me up to a reality in this world. A year ago I was preparing for one of the largest undertakings of my life, which would become a year of having no home of my own, and traveling from Southeast Asia to Kenya. I remember nervously scanning the news for what was happening in these far stretches of the world; I was scared but I was determined. To my great relief and fortune, the areas of the world I was about to travel through and live in had little warnings. I had no idea what I would experience or see in these places. I saw, felt, tasted, and tried so much more than I ever could have imagined possible.

Sadly just a year later, both areas I traveled through are highly prominent in the news and in the most troubling ways. Floods are devastating Southeast Asia, towns are being washed away, crops destroyed, and people’s lives tragically impacted. I remember the houses through much of the Cambodian countryside on stilts to avoid these heavy monsoons and I can imagine the waters rising and wiping so much away. In Kenya there is famine and kidnappings. None of this surprises me. Kenya is such a different place with or without a natural disaster or conflict with neighboring countries; we in much of the world cannot properly comprehend the circumstances.

This is all a very long way to introduce this year’s giving list and to say that it is closer to my heart than ever before. I am proud that this is the second annual list of this kind, and equally excited to think I might actually get to keep this list going for years to come. This year the list is particularly special, as you will find no major organizations listed (sorry MSF, I do love you) but only small NGOs helping directly on the ground in immediate support of the communities they are in. Also, I have focused the groups listed to reflect the travels I took in 2011 and the places I spent time in.

VICDA: This is the organization that facilitated my volunteer placement in Kenya. They are working throughout the country on various projects of merit. It is run by a group of dedicated locals, and despite any of my confusion they are doing the very real work that is making an impact.

“Volunteer International Community Development Africa (VICDA) is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) that was established in Nairobi, Kenya by a local woman, Irene Wairimu Ngatia, in 2004…With the assistance of generous donors and selfless volunteers, VICDA has been able to focus their efforts primarily on the rehabilitation of street children, drilling of wells, HIV/AIDS counseling and assistance, medical camps, medical centers, child education and sponsorship.”

Note: Quote taken from VICDA Website. See link for more information.

GREEN BELT KENYA: “The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple act of planting a tree, we give hope to ourselves and to future generations.”–Wangari Maathai

“The Green Belt Movement is one of the most prominent women’s civil society organizations, based in Kenya, advocating for human rights and supporting good governance and peaceful democratic change through the protection of the environment. Its mission is to empower communities worldwide to protect the environment and to promote good governance and cultures of peace.”

Note: Quote taken from Green Belt Kenya Website. See link for more information.

VALENTINO ACHAK DENG FOUNDATION: I have supported this organization since reading the book WHAT IS THE WHAT based on Valentino Achak Deng’s life and being inspired by his character and spirit. This year South Sudan became its own nation just days after I left Africa.

The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to increase access to education in post-conflict South Sudan by building schools, libraries, teacher-training institutes, and community centers.”

Note: Quote taken from Valentino Achak Deng Foundation Website. See link for more information.

NEW HOPE CAMBODIA: This is the organization I visited in Cambodia and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since that day. I still hope to make it back and volunteer myself in this astounding place.

“Set in Mondul 3, Siem Reap, one of the poorest slum areas in Cambodia. A broken community of army families, karoke/sex workers and displaced men women and children. New Hope Cambodia’s mission is to restore hope, dignity, and promise to these once proud and prosperous people.”

Note: Quote taken from New Hope Cambodia Website. See link for more information.

BUILD A SCHOOL IN BURMA: My father first told me about this wonderful group, and in the last few months it has been my distinct honor to work with Bob at Martin’s and discuss his work in Burma. I have been moved by the testimonials and the passion and dedication in every encounter. I hope more than anything to make it to this special place and be able to work with this deserving organization.

“Build A School in Burma’s mission is to build schools in underserved areas of Burma (Myanmar) to educate children and give them a better future. It costs less than $20,000 to build a four room basic school that will educate up to 125 children. Build a School in Burma recently completed its first school in Nan Ouw village, Shan State.  They are now working on a second school with the Karen Women Action Group.”

Note: Quote taken from Build A School In Burma Website. See link for more information.!

And because it will always be the closest in my heart wherever I go,

MARTIN DE PORRES HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY: I was raised in the shadow of these soup pots and surrounded by this community my entire life.

“Martin’s, as it is affectionately known, is a free restaurant, serving breakfast and lunch during the week and brunch on Sundays. Our mission is to serve in the spirit of compassion, understanding and love.”

Note: Quote taken from Martin de Porres Website. See link for more information.

I have been so moved this year. I have been so opened by what I have seen. And I have been so affected by the bounties around me. With such gratitude it seemed only right this year that I do more than simply share my favorite organizations, I am making additional donations to each of the listed organizations in honor of all of you out there in my life.

Thank you for being with me this year. Thank you for caring about me. And thank you to each of these organizations for the important work you do every day.

~ Ra


12 2011

Send Your Worries Away

“Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Before Bobby McFerrin made this phrase famous in his song, Meher Baba started these words. I grew up with Meher Baba as more than just an image in my imagination and these words as more than just a hip catch phrase. We had pictures of Meher Baba throughout our house in black and white, at times peeling and ripped at the edges, placed in the most unusual spots. The picture I most remember is the one that lived for my entire life in our bathroom; it showed Meher Baba adorned with a necklace of marigolds and this sentence prominently written across it. I saw it every day and my mother would refer to it and Meher Baba as if he were a distant uncle who lived in India and not a spiritual guru from a different generation. I was pretty sure my mom even talked to this picture at times.

It feels like a good time of year to mention Meher Baba and his brilliant (and simple) advice. Tis the season of longer nights, shorter days, infinite to do lists, and what always seems like a more anxious and worried humanity. We are in the thick of advent and the time between Thanksgiving and New Years. Everyone seems to have more to do and less time to do it.

And with all of this in our minds, I thought it the perfect time of year to introduce you to my friend Colin’s website. Colin and my mom were always close. My mom loved Colin; she loved his mind, his sense of humor, and his deep questions about the universe. She would recount to me on many occasions a profound conversation she had with Colin at this or that event. On one such occasion she giddily told me about a new venture they had created. The idea on this evening was an online place to send your worries. “Imagine it Ra,” she said “a place like Mr. Google where you just send your worries and with a click they disappear into that cyber world”. I laughed along, but somewhere did think how nice it would be to have a place to send all my many worries.

This summer while I was in Kenya, Colin e-mailed me and mentioned this idea and said he had been thinking a lot of my mom and this conversation. In June he had been prompted to start a very basic website.  I can’t tell you how much my mom would be proud of Colin – as a man, as a new father, and as a spirit who followed through with one of their out of this world ideas.

I invite you all to meet the best cyber idea I have come across in a while. And at this very hectic time of year, I encourage you to take the great advice of Meher Baba and Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” and if you can’t then log on and send your worries away with me.

Thank you Colin for seeing this great idea through. Thank you for continuing to make Barbara’s ideas live and find new people.

Season’s greetings and may your holidays be free from worry!




12 2011

A Late Fall Coconut Lentil Soup And A Visit To Dede’s Farm

Could it actually be December? It seems too hard to believe, it’s not just the unseasonably stunning sunny weather that flooded my last weekend in San Francisco, but also the fact that the year seems to have whizzed by faster than my mind could possibly comprehend. But yes it is.

All of last week there was a false early fall feeling in the air. The red, yellow, and orange that splash the Central Coast of California vineyards, had a disorienting way of making me think of October in New England. I spent a week driving the coast roads – to and from Soledad Mission, to the beach and walk along the sand dunes. I went for evening low tide walks with Anne and Beth and their dogs. I hiked the hills behind their house to gaze out over the valley so well described in East of Eden. I made a lovely coconut Lentil soup for friends.

After a long stunt of work and travel, my whirlwind slowed down and I got to sink into a little relaxation. My life feels a bit more like the later days of fall and early days of winter than the stunning sunshine would imply. I feel as though my leaves have changed colors and I am ready to hibernate for the winter. To take in the seeds of an unknown future for this next year 2012 and let the seed slumber beneath the warm soil while the snow piles up above ground. I am not ready for the reality of snow but my life feels ready this year for some slower living in front of fires, baking of warm and hearty meals, and the quiet contemplation that comes with in door recreation.

For now I am reveling in the sunshine knowing it won’t last forever. I am trying to capture the sunshine in my skin and if possible little bottles to open throughout the winter months. On my way back to San Francisco for a final weekend before heading East again, Anne and I stopped off at our friend Dede’s new farm in Pescadero. It was a bit of a surreal and fantastic little detour into the heart of an unexpected little world just off of Highway 1, and inland enough of the sea that one can hardly imagine it as you look out at the white capped waves crashing along the beach.

It almost seemed unbelievable in a hidden field surrounded by ancient redwoods. But there were 3 of the most adorable cabins, a few goats, chickens, the last of a fall harvest from a sustainable farm, some delicious raspberries, and a claw foot tub nestled into the base of a giant tree. I could hardly believe myself as our car was greeted by a raucous welcoming committee of dogs racing about us. We strolled the fields, saw the last of the falling apples in the remaining orchard, we picked greens to take home and make meals with. Kale chips baked two hours after picking from the field are pretty tasty. I imagined more time here. I pictured a little retreat and myself someday – cooking from what was harvested that day, milking a goat, and soaking in an outdoor hot bubble bath. But that would be those seeds of a future year. That would be the slumbering ideas for 2012 and not the early days of a sunny December.

Below is the Coconut Lentil soup recipe I made, it comes from 101 Cookbooks. It’s a lovely rich soup inspired by Indian dal; the colors perfectly match the outdoors I experienced last week – with yellow and red lentils simmered in a coconut bath spiced with fragrant toasted orange curry powder. The soup is not spicy but it has a flavor filled mouthful perfectly sweetened by yellow raisons. It’s not your usual lentil soup but it is one I will surely make again this winter to remind me that the colors will come back and that the cycle of seasons will continue.

I hope you are out enjoying the last of the sun and basking in the rays of the late season warmth.

~ Ramona

Coconut Red Lentil Soup from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup / 7 oz / 200g yellow split peas
1 cup 7 oz / 200g red split lentils (masoor dal)
7 cups / 1.6 liters water
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 Tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
2 Tablespoons curry powder
2 Tablespoons butter or ghee
8 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 45g golden raisins
1/3 / 80 ml cup tomato paste
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
one small handful cilantro, chopped

We also served it with a little dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream.

Give the split peas and lentils a good rinse – until they no longer put off murky water. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot and 1/4 of the ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.

In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don’t want to burn the curry powder, just toast it. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat; add half of the green onions, the remaining ginger, and raisins. Sauté for two minutes stirring constantly, then add the tomato paste and sauté for another minute or two more.

Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency if you like by adding more water, a bit at a time, if you like. Or simmer longer for a thicker consistency.


12 2011