A Very Happy Easter

As I sat around the table, looking at so many people who I am incredibly lucky to have in my life, I wondered at what point traditions become traditions. I couldn’t think of any other way I’d like to spend Easter, even though it’s essentially a repeat of every year prior. I love spending it with my godson, and love the comfortableness that comes knowing there will always be lamb to eat, the egg game, and red eggs.

We start the evening with cocktails and everyone catches up with each other – who’s traveled where, how school is going, how jobs are going, what people’s plans are for the summer. Over dinner, there continues to be animated conversation, then after dinner (but before dessert) is the egg game. Each person chooses a plastic egg at random, and when it’s their turn, opens the egg, which contains a slip of paper with a question. The questions are meant to provoke answers that could be potentially humorous, potentially embarrassing. When the person answers the question there’s often banter from around the table, either in agreement or disagreement. My question this year was tame compared to some of the others – “What actor or actress creeps you out the most and why?” I’m not good with names, but it was the killer in No Country for Old Men. Whenever I see him, I can’t get that role out of my head. Questions that provoked great conversation this year were, “What was the worst thing someone overshared with you on a first date?”, “Would you rather not use your phone/computer/electronics for a week or not take a shower for a week?” and “What was the worst travel experience you’ve ever had?”

After dessert, we pass around a basket of hard-boiled eggs, all dyed a brilliant deep red. We pair up with the person next to us and position the eggs pointed end to pointed end. One person says, “Cristos anesti!” and the other replies “Alithos anesti!” and the first person taps the other person’s egg. One of the eggs cracks, and that person is out of the competition for the pointed end. You flip your eggs over, and do the same with the blunt end of the egg. As long as you have one end of your egg that isn’t cracked, you continue around the room, tapping eggs and exclaiming, “Cristos anesti!”

The night ends with hugs and kisses, and hopes of seeing each other soon. It’s the same every year. Despite that, or maybe because of that, it’s one of the holidays I treasure most.

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The Gig Is Up

Today was the last day of the mouthwash vs. oil pulling experiment. My observations:

Week One – Mouthwash
I purchased Crest Pro-Health Multi-Protection Alcohol Free mouthwash, primarily because that was the smallest bottle of mouthwash I could find at the drugstore. It claimed to offer 24-hour protection and do the following things:

  • kills germs
  • reduces plaque
  • helps prevent gingivitis
  • keeps teeth cleaner longer
  • freshens breath

all without the burn of alcohol. I used it according to instructions, swishing for 30 seconds twice a day after brushing and flossing.

Here’s what I noticed. After swishing in the morning, my mouth was numb for about four to five hours. I felt like my tastebuds were slowly being killed off. Lunch didn’t taste as good. My mouth didn’t feel clean, it felt numb. Even though I brushed, flossed, and mouthwashed before going to bed, I still woke up with a good amount of plaque on my teeth in the morning. My breath didn’t appear noticeably fresher, but do you ever really notice when your own breath is fresh?

Week Two – Brush and Floss, My Regular Routine
This was the control week. I’m glad we built this into the experiment, so that my mouth had time to return to normal. I brushed and flossed twice a day.

Week Three – Oil Pulling
I purchased Trader Joe’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. It comes in a glass jar, and is not a liquid, but not quite a solid either, it’s kind of a mushy in between state. I opened the jar the first morning. It smelled good, like being in the Bahamas. Instructions for oil pulling say to swish the oil in your mouth for 20 minutes each morning (before you’ve had a chance to eat or drink anything), pulling the oil through your teeth. I had the timer on my phone set for 20 minutes, and ready to start as soon as the tablespoon of oil went into my mouth. I put the gelatinous mush in my mouth, started the timer, and almost gagged. The taste was fine, but the texture was unpleasant. As I swished for a few minutes, the oil became more liquid like, and not quite so gag inspiring. I used the time to check my email, Facebook, and Twitter. The twenty minutes passed pretty quickly (surprisingly). The volume grew as I swished and the oil combined with my saliva. I spit it out into a cup (if you try this, don’t spit it down the drain because it can clog the plumbing), then rinsed with salt water as instructed. My teeth felt really clean, like after a cleaning and polishing at the dentist’s. I brushed and flossed as normal. I noticed when I flossed that there was almost no plaque on my teeth.

Later that morning, I had friends over for brunch. I made one of my favorite brunch dishes, baked French toast. I love this dish not only because it’s easy to make, but also because it’s sugary and delicious, and a rare treat that I only make when guests come over. Usually after eating it (or any sweets, really), my teeth start to feel fuzzy; I can actually feel the plaque forming from all the sugar. I was surprised that didn’t happen that morning. My teeth continued to feel smooth and clean. I ate another piece of baked French toast (in the name of science) and waited. Still no fuzziness. My teeth continued to feel clean, and stayed that way for several hours. Interesting.

On day 2, I heated the oil in the microwave for about 10 seconds before swishing. That was just long enough to liquefy it, so that I didn’t gag. As I swished, thoughts of “What the heck are you doing? This is ridiculous…” ran through my head. Some claims of oil pulling are that it:

  • whitens teeth
  • strengthens your gums/teeth/jaw
  • prevents cavities and promotes overall good oral health
  • helps ease symptoms of acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc
  • clears up morning breath/halitosis
  • helps with sleep issues

The claim is that the oil pulls bacteria out of your mouth and toxins out of your body. As I swished, it didn’t feel like any toxins were leaving my body, but maybe they were leaving quietly. On day 3, a random stranger stopped me on the street and told me I was stunningly beautiful. Could it be the toxins had been masking my beauty before? Perhaps…

I oil pulled for twenty minutes every morning over the past seven days. My teeth feel cleaner; I don’t feel the buildup of plaque that I normally feel after eating food (mostly sweets). I wish I had taken a before/after picture of my teeth. They seem whiter, but as one of my friends said, “You’ve always had white teeth.”

The one downside is that this morning one of my teeth that has a crown started hurting. It’s not a terrible pain, but it is slightly more sensitive when I bite down on it. I did some more research before writing this post and some people suggest that oil pulling can loosen crowns, or cause them to fall off (oops – guess I should have researched that before hand). So, will I continue oil pulling every day? Probably not. But on those days when I want super smooth polished teeth and that just-come-from-the-dentist feeling, I have a jar of Trader Joe’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil waiting for me in my cupboard.

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Muchas Gracias, Señor García Márquez

Yesterday Gabriel García Márquez passed away. I was saddened, and in my mind imagined that all the yellow  butterflies in the world had gathered to escort him to heaven.

I’ve thought for a long time, and truthfully can’t remember when I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude. What I do know is that my copy is tattered, the pages worn thin from so many turns, and the book wrinkled from being exposed to the elements, perhaps caught in a rainstorm on the beach, or perhaps the victim of an overturned drink on a flight.

I loved his use of language. I loved the magical mixed with the reality. I loved the history of Macondo, and the generations that lived and loved there. Most of all, I loved the yellow butterflies that followed Mauricio. So much so that whenever I see a swarm of butterflies, I imagine he’s near. It taught me to look for the magical in my life and honor it.

I’m sad that Señor García Márquez won’t have the chance to share any more of his tremendous stories with the world. It’s probably time to re-read a few of his stories. And remember the magic.

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Baked French Toast

I love having people over for brunch. It’s early in the day (but not too early) and there’s no sense of rush, particularly if there are young children invited. One of my absolute favorite recipes is baked French Toast, which you prepare the night before, then pop in the oven the morning of the brunch. It’s an incredibly sweet concoction, basically a combination of buttery brown sugar goodness that melts in your mouth.

  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter or margarine
  • 4 tablespoons flavoring of choice: vanilla, hazelnut, almond, etc.
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 loaf Italian or French Bread cut into 1 inch thick slices (I actually prefer Challah)
  • Cinnamon

Place brown sugar into 13 x 8 inch baking dish. Melt butter or margarine in microwave. Blend brown sugar, melted butter and 2 tablespoons flavoring until its makes a glaze in bottom of baking dish. Whisk eggs, milk and remaining flavoring in a shallow bowl until well blended. Dip each bread slice into egg mixture, thoroughly soaking both sides. Lay bread on top of sugar mixture in baking dish. Kind of push the slices into the sugar mixture and pack in the slices so that they are touching. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Refrigerate overnight.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown in a 375 degree oven. Flip each slice of bread over so glazed side is up. Serve hot. Serves 6.

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The Daily Post prompt for today says, “Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen.”

I was sixteen and incredibly insecure. I somehow fit the template of “popular” but never felt like I fit in. I was a cheerleader, I got good grades, I hung out with the “cool” kids, but I felt ridiculously awkward in my own skin. I wanted to fit in more than anything. But I didn’t. I didn’t agree with a lot of the things around me, and I didn’t have the courage to assert my beliefs. I didn’t think I believed in God, but I was in church multiple times a week. It seemed so acceptable, so normal, to everyone else; I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have faith that seemed to come so naturally to everyone else. There was an interracial couple at our high school. I hated the way that people gossiped about them, and I hated myself more that I stayed silent. I hated when people jokingly called someone “gay” or “faggot” and I hated it more that I never protested.

I took a trip that summer to Europe. Our Word History class sold cheese (yes, cheese) to finance our trip. I loved being on an airplane. I loved being in another country, another way of life. I loved buying fresh produce at a local market (this was before farmer’s markets were the common thing they are now) and eating bread, cheese, and cherries for dinner. I loved wandering museums, lost among artists. I loved seeing people live lives that were so different from what I lived in North Carolina. I loved that the French (at the time) seemed to hate Americans, but had no qualms about interracial relationships. I loved experiencing a different way of life.

Sixteen was the year I decided that somehow, my life would extend beyond what it currently was. I didn’t know how that would happen, or even if it was possible, but that was the year that I decided that I would do whatever I could to see more of the world, and that I would do whatever I needed to do to have the courage to speak my mind.

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For some reason (which I can’t remember now) I decided I wouldn’t use Chrome when it first came out. Maybe it was all the complaining I heard from co-workers and friends when they installed it. I’m not sure.

Recently, a co-worker, Cami, convinced me to install Chrome (some security bug prevented me from using Safari) and introduced me to a plugin called Momentum. It is a small thing that makes me so happy each day. Momentum is a plug-in for Chrome. Once installed, when you open a new tab, you see a stunning landscape (natural or urban) and can enter your main focus for the day. The same landscape appears over a 24 hour period. There are certain landscapes that are my favorites: storm clouds looming over the mountains, a crystal clear blue lagoon, waterfalls among the rainforest. I never know what I’ll get when I open a new tab, and I love the element of surprise for the day. Often, I’ll open a new tab and just keep it open (not visit any other sites) in order to always be able to reference that beauty throughout the day.

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My Type of Gal!

Last year at an Ecology Project International fundraiser, I was the lucky winner of an auction for a seven-day cruise for two to the Galapagos. The Galapagos! Islands of exotic animals! Swimming with sea turtles!

I asked my partner in crime, Emily, if she’d like to go with me. She was ecstatic. She had lived in Ecuador as a student, but at the time couldn’t afford to go to the Galapagos. We looked at our calendars and picked a few dates in May that we wanted to book.

I called the boat tour company in January and asked for our first choice of dates. Nope, they were booked. I asked for our second choice. Booked then, too. Before I could ask for a third choice of dates, the tour operator told me the first available tours were in August. August?!?! Eight months away? I guess other people like to plan in advance. We booked a tour for late August.

Emily and I talked about booking plane tickets to Ecuador, but never really got around to it. We were planning to get together this weekend and I said, “Come over! Let’s book our plane tickets!” We figured out how many days we wanted to spend in Quito before going to the islands and what days we wanted to travel. We booked our flights from San Francisco to Quito and return. From Quito, however, we needed to get to the Galapagos Islands. There are a few airlines that fly that route: TAME, Avianca, and Lan Ecuador. We chose Avianca since it’s part of Star Alliance. Unfortunately, you can’t book Avianca domestic flights online. Emily called the airline, and I listened as they conversed in Spanish, “…talk, talk, talk, numbers, numbers, dates…” Silence. “Solomente? En Augusto?” She turned to me. “There’s just one flight left with seats available, at 6:30 am.” “Really? For August?” She nodded. “Book it!” She talked some more, arranging the internal domestic flights. When she hung up, again, I was somewhat flustered. Who plans this far in advance?

We decided since we were in a planning mode, we would book our accommodation for our three nights in Quito. We perused several residences on Airbnb, finally settling on one that was centrally located and decorated with brightly colored rugs. We sent a message to the host, checking availability for August. This morning, she replied that she doesn’t make reservations more than two months in advance.

Finally! My type of gal!

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