Mission Accomplished

As many of you know I volunteer with my Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya, at a school where 2nd graders read to her. Maya is certified as a Therapy Dog, through Therapy Dog International. She can visit schools, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, or wherever they may need a therapy dog. The goal of the reading program is to help children improve their reading skills while increasing their confidence and love for reading. Over the years we have met children who are dog lovers, some who are adequately comfortable with dogs, and others who are downright scared of dogs. Maya establishes varying degrees of bonds with each child. Early in the school year, Maya even picks her “favorites”. She exhibits her favoritism through her varying displays of exuberance and affection to the different children. When there’s a “favorite” all Maya wants to do is sit as close as she can to the child.  Maya and her best friend will curl up together to read while the child pets her, rests on her, rests her book on her, or simply snuggles her. Maya can also sense when a child is not comfortable with dogs. These children choose to sit away from Maya and Maya respects their wishes.


Rest assured that it is Maya’s mission to win over the hearts of ALL of her children, even the ones that are uneasy or afraid of her. There comes a time during the school year when Maya decides that it is time to win over that particular child. One day Maya will simply decide that she is no longer sitting three feet away from the child and will insist on sitting closer. Of course I’m always attentive to the child’s concerns. And so it was two weeks ago when Maya suddenly decided that she wanted to sit very close to Kathy (the name has been changed). Up until then, Kathy would join us and with great trepidation would sit as far away from Maya as she could, and Maya would oblige. But on this particular day, Maya insisted on sitting next to her friend as I unsuccessfully tried to steer her 80-pound frame away. I could see Kathy’s face of concern, and I explained to her, “Maya really likes you and she really wants to sit next to you”. I reassured her that Maya would not hurt her and with that Kathy allowed Maya to curl up right next to her. Within minutes, Maya had settled into her nap of contentment with Kathy holding her book in one hand while reading out loud, and probably without even noticing herself, she had reached over to gently pet Maya with her other hand.

Nothing makes us happier than to turn a child into a dog lover. I said to Kathy, “oh my goodness, I think someday you are going to own your own dog, maybe even two dogs!”  Kathy looked up from her book and gave me a big beautiful smile.

Maya had accomplished her mission.




Colorful Cartagena, Colombia

The city of Cartagena located on the Atlantic Coast of Colombia was founded by the Spaniards in 1533. It was known then as Cartagena de Indias.

By 1586 construction began on a stone fortification to protect the city from Caribbean pirates. In time, the city was enclosed by 7 miles of militarily fortified walls. It is considered one of the most extensive fortifications of South America. Cartagena was a major trading hub for the Spanish and Portuguese.

The picture below shows the stone wall and canons surrounding the old city. In the far distance is Boca Grande where the beach hotels and modern apartment buildings are.

The next photo shows La Torre del Reloj, the Clock Tower, the entrance to the walled city.


In the 1990’s Cartagena underwent a major restoration. Today you can visit La Ciudad Vieja, the old city,  and feel like you have stepped back in time enjoying its beautiful streets, architecture, and culture.

My husband I recently visited Cartagena, Colombia. The city is divided into various neighborhoods. The hotels by the beach and modern apartments are located in the Boca Grande area. We chose to stay in the old colonial city in Sofitel’s Santa Clara Hotel in the San Diego neighborhood. The Santa Clara was originally built in 1621 as a convent for the order of Las Clarissas, also known as the nuns of the Order of St. Claire. The convent operated for 240 years until 1861 when the government took over church properties. The property was then used as a prison until 1884 and as a hospital until 1974. The property was then abandoned and fell into major disrepair. Sofitel purchased the property and after a major renovation opened the hotel in 1994. Today it is one of Cartagena’s most beautiful hotels.

The spectacular inside courtyard of The Santa Clara hotel. On the bottom right hand side is one of the original 4 wells of the convent.

Stepping out of our hotel and exploring the neighborhood.

Iglesia de Santo Toribio located in one of the corners of The Plaza Fernandez de Madrid

In the picture below, on the right hand side is, La Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria de Cartagena de Indias.

Below is The Charleston Santa Teresa Hotel in Plaza Santa Teresa

The next two photos are of the Plaza San Pedro de Claver.

Evening strolls in Cartagena

Below is the Plaza de la Aduana – Custom’s Square

Colorful mochilas made by the Wayuu Native Americans from the Guajira region of Colombia. 

Houses in the three colors of the Colombia Flag, blue, red, and yellow.

We loved this beautiful and colorful city of Cartagena and we look forward to visiting again!





The Handmaid’s Tale – A Cautionary Tale

I recently started watching Hulu’s adaptation of the best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985). Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale has received numerous awards including this year’s Emmy’s. I have been riveted by this television series. I also plan to read the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the near future in the dystopia of Gilead located in New England. A fundamentalist Christian totalitarian government has overthrown the United States. Women are stripped of all their rights. Gilead faces environmental disasters and plunging birthrates. In this society the Commanders’ wives are sterile. Therefore healthy fertile women, Handmaids, are forced into sexual servitude to help propagate the population. The novel tells the story of, Offred, one of the Handmaids and her survival in this frightening society. Her goal, to survive and find the daughter that was taken away from her.

This disquieting story resonated with me because I feel that if we don’t remain vigilant versions of a Gilead could become a reality. Some of you may feel that it is unlikely a situation like this could ever happen in the United States. However, as a minority, a woman and a Latina, I am keenly aware of all the effort that has gone into attaining equal rights for the various segments of our society. And although we have made inroads, much remains to be done to support diversity in this country. Also working against progress are the harmful radicalized views of some of our fellow citizens. Venezuela has its own version of Gilead. Venezuela went from being a rich democracy to a dictatorship in 18 years.

I will share with you that I am a spiritual person and not a religious person. I support your right to have your own spiritual beliefs. However I am a fervent believer in separation of Church and State. The chilling truth is that our government does not have a true separation of church and state. It is very difficult for some our government representatives to separate morality from religion. The Judicial branch of our government is a perfect example of how conservative and liberal views may influence interpretation of the law. At the state level, states like Utah have legislation that is heavily influenced by the Mormon religion. Gilead, although a fictional place, does not seem so unlikely when we see the behavior or decisions made by some our leaders.

I highly recommend watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Regardless of your belief system and values, be they conservative or liberal, religious or secular, no one wants to lose their inherent rights. The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary tale. We have the civic responsibility to participate in our democracy. I feel it is sometimes very easy to rely on others to run things. We must be diligent in understanding what is happening in our government at local, state, and federal levels. And lastly, we must remain vigilant in furthering equal rights in our society. The Handmaid’s Tale calls for advocacy and activism.


The Empty Nester Food Project

This past August my husband and I helped our youngest daughter move into her college dorm for her freshman year. While we did this, our older son moved by himself into his apartment for his sophomore year. And just like that we were officially “empty nesters”.

When we got home I left to the kennel immediately to pick up our two labs, Maya and Jessie. And thank goodness for them because they fill up an otherwise very empty house. The next day my husband and I were sitting by the pool, enjoying a drink, and perusing though our cookbooks.

Reading cookbooks from our 200+ collection has been a favorite pastime. It is one of the ways we discover new recipes to cook. Feeling a little sad about no longer having the children to cook for, my husband and I were wondering what we were going to do with regard to food. And that is when my husband proposed that we each pick a cookbook and cook our way through it as a fun positive distraction. I raised my glass to that!

So here is the project in a nutshell.

  1. We each pick a favorite cookbook. Curt’s Choice: “Dinner – Changing the Game” by Melissa Clark and Ariadne’s Choice: “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2014
  2. We are each responsible for selecting and cooking a new recipe for one of the weekend days.
  3. The weekend cooking yields leftovers for part of the week.
  4. I select and cook a new recipe for one day of the week.
  5. Fridays are now called “Tapas Fridays”. Tapas Fridays will not be restricted to Spanish tapas but to finger foods, snack foods, or party foods from around the world.
  6. We are using the app Evernote to journal the recipe selection, dates, and reviews.
  7. Lastly, I am using my other blog to share our food journal. The Kitchen Blackboard.

Project Update:

September marked the official beginning of our project. Our first Tapas Friday menu included a delicious puff pastry with roasted tomatoes. We accompanied the pastry with roasted parmesan-crusted zucchini rounds. Both the tomatoes and zucchini were from my husband’s garden. We accompanied our fun foods with wine and movies. The weekend’s meals are highlighted in my other blog:  The Kitchen Blackboard. We are very excited with our new project. It certainly has given us new culinary adventures to look forward to and redirected our emotions in a positive way.

Saturday Night’s Spatchcocked Chili-Rubbed Chicken with Avocado Buttermilk dressing, roasted Brussel sprouts and carrots.

Colombian Eggs

“Colombian Eggs” is a family favorite. To our family Colombian eggs are scrambled eggs done in a specific way. Instead of scrambling the eggs ahead of time and then cooking them, we make our Colombian eggs by heating up the pan, cracking the egg(s) into the pan, and then scrambling them as they cook. Our family enjoys two versions of Colombian eggs.

  • Version 1 – Heat a small amount of vegetable oil or butter in a non-stick pan. Let the oil/butter get really brown. Break the egg into the pan and scramble as it cooks. Add salt. Cook to desired consistency.

  • Version 2 – Colombian Eggs with Sofrito.  Sofrito is used in cuisines such as Latin American and Italian cooking. Sofrito is cooked chopped tomato and onion. You can season the sofrito with salt and pepper. If you want you can add a little cumin. It is used as a base in food preparation or as a flavor enhancer. For Colombian eggs with sofrito heat a small amount of vegetable oil or butter in a non-stick pan. Warm the sofrito. Break the egg into the pan and scramble as it cooks. Add Salt.

In Colombia you would eat your eggs with an arepa. An arepa is a patty made with ground maize dough. I accompany my Colombian Eggs with whatever is handy.


Maya and Her Favorite Ball

Maya has a favorite ball. It’s an old soccer ball that once belonged to our children. We discovered many years ago that Maya loved playing fetch with this particular ball. The ball is now worn and deflated, but it is still Maya’s favorite. We store it in the garage in a bin on a shelf. Once in a while, Maya re-discovers her favorite ball and stands by it, whimpering until a human gets it for her. Maya is older and slower now but when she sees her favorite ball she is a puppy again. Her enthusiasm is infectious!

Maya’s Favorite Ball