Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple-less Apple Pie

Back in the day, during World War II, there was a shortage of apples. I'm not sure of the correlation between war and apples but it happened. So says my grandmother. Anyway, being the creative sort that they were, the people of her time improvised and made due with what they had. Below is my grandmothers recipe for apple-less apple pie. Give this a try. It's pretty darned good.


Pastry dough for a two crust 9 inch pie. (You can use a pre made crust if you wish)
1 3/4 cups of Ritz crackers, coarsely crumbled (about 36 crackers)
1 3/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, beaten


Roll out half the pastry dough and line a 9 inch pie plate/tin. Put the cracker crumbs in the prepared crust and set aside. Heat water, sugar, and cream of tartar to a boil over high heat. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice & zest. Let cool. Pour the cooled mixture over the cracker crumbs. Dot it with butter or margarine. Roll out remaining pastry dough & arrange over pie, cutting slits in the top to vent the steam. Egg wash the pie crust to enhance the golden color of the crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until pie crust is golden and crisp. Allow to cool before serving.

Got Chickpeas? Got Sweet Potatoes?

It's recipe Friday and as you may (or may not) know, I am the world's biggest hummus fan. I eat it, make it, cook with it & once used it to glue my mirror back on. Well, no not really on the mirror thing but I LOVE HUMMUS!

I have recently been embraced the science of flavor blending. I have been trying some seriously off the charts hummus flavors like lemon (tastes like a dessert), scallion, buffalo wing, and crabby but I've got to tell you that Sweet Potato Hummus might be my gift to the masses! This stuff rocks. I never tout my own food or my cooking but this stuff is that good! You can serve this warm or cold with the cracker or pita of your choice but if you are alone and want to be decadent, put a few dollops in a bowl and just eat it with a spoon. The recipe is below and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Sweet Potato Hummus

2 medium sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained)
3 tablespoons tahini
3 cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
ground sea salt, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
pinch of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the sweet potatoes on the middle oven rack or in a baking dish for 45 minutes to an hour. They should yield to a gentle squeeze when they’re done baking.
While the sweet potatoes are cooling, toss all of the other ingredients into a food processor (if you’re sensitive to spice, you may want to save the spices for last and add them to taste). Once the sweet potatoes have cooled enough to handle, use a knife or your fingers to peel the skin off of them. Add the sweet potatoes to the food processor.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fire Safety Part Two: Bedroom Fire Safety

Each year, fire claims the lives of 3,500 Americans and injures approximately 18,300. Bedrooms are a common area of fire origin. Nearly 600 lives are lost to fires that start in bedrooms. Many of these fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, such as overloading extension cords or using portable space heaters too close to combustibles. Many other bedroom fires are caused by children who play with matches and lighters, careless smoking among adults, and arson.

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the Sleep Products Safety Council (SPSC) would like you to know that there are simple steps you can take to prevent the loss of life and property resulting from bedroom fires.
Children are one of the highest risk groups for deaths in residential fires. At home, children usually play with fire - lighters, matches and other ignitables - in bedrooms, in closets, and under beds. These are "secret" places where there are a lot of things that catch fire easily.

Did you know that children of all ages set over 35,000 fires annually. Every year over 400 children nine years and younger die in home fires. For some reason, kids are fascinated by fire and flame. Keep matches and lighters locked up and away from children. Check under beds and in closets for burnt matches, evidence your child may be playing with matches. Above all, teach your child that fire is a tool, not a toy.
Bedrooms are the most common room in the home where electrical fires start. Electrical fires are a special concern during winter months which call for more indoor activities and increases in lighting, heating, and appliance use. Do not trap electric cords against walls where heat can build up. Take extra care when using portable heaters. Keep bedding, clothes, curtains and other combustible items at least three feet away from space heaters. Only use lab-approved (Underwriters Laboratory is a good example) electric blankets and warmers. Check to make sure the cords are not frayed and make sure your smoke alarms are in working condition.
Finally, tuck yourself in for a good night of restful sleep by never smoking in bed, replace mattresses made before the 2007 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard. Mattresses made since then are required by law to be safer & most of all having working smoke alarms dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. Place at least one smoke alarm on each level of your home and in halls outside bedrooms. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.

Next Up: Cooking Fire Safety

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fire Safety Part One: Smoke Alarms

I have decided to concentrate my blog on a subject that I feel is very important. As a firefighter, fire safety is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I don’t care what people think, but true dedicated firefighters don’t want to come to your home or business to put out a fire if it can be avoided. We would much rather that you are safe. Fires are devastating, potentially deadly events that even on a small scale cause undue heartache and grief to those involved. I am going to break this down into five parts. Each one giving an overview of fire safety from the perspective of a firefighter but broken down into wording and terms a citizen will understand.

The first subject concerns smoke alarms, their placement, their maintenance and replacement and what not to do to your smoke alarm.

A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you’re awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.

Smoke alarms should be at a minimum placed on every level of your home, the basement included. Many fatal fires begin late at night or in the early morning so I recommend that you place smoke alarms in every sleeping area of your home also. Early warning is a key to saving your life and the lives of those you love.

Smoke alarms, whether of the 9-volt, 10 year lithium, or hardwired variety need to be maintained. General guidelines are as follows:

Smoke alarms powered by a 9-volt battery should be tested monthly. Replace the batteries at least once per year and the entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every 8-10 years.

Smoke alarms powered by a 10-year lithium (or “long life”) battery should be tested monthly. Since you cannot and should not attempt to replace the lithium battery, the entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Smoke alarm that is hardwired into the home’s electrical system tested monthly. The backup battery should be replaced at least once per year and the entire smoke alarm unit should be replaced every 8-10 years.

Finally, never, ever disable a smoke alarm while cooking. A smoke alarm is just doing its job when it sounds while you’re cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam.

If a smoke alarm sounds while you’re cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam, do not remove the battery. You should open a window or door and press the “hush” button, wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air, or move the entire alarm several feet away from the location. Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake.

Did I say that you should NEVER, EVER, EVER disable your smoke alarm because you are cooking? Ok, I did but I really wanted to emphasize the fact that the consequences can be deadly if you disable your smoke alarm.

Next up: Bedroom Fire Safety

Friday, September 14, 2012

Taoism & Operating Subconsciously

Although we can only focus on one thing at a time, multitasking is far more natural to us than constant focus. Meditation exposes our inner lack of control and inability to hold focus on one thing at a time and, when it comes to historical accounts of a person able to dedicate a lot of constant thought to one issue, then they are far and few those who display this ability. This is a strange statement. We can only focus on one thing at a time, but we all know from common experience that our focus constantly shifts from one thing to the next.

Sorry, I lost my train of thought then and had a swig of coffee.

It is certain that evolution would favor those who shifted attention frequently as one who was stuck in one thought could well find themselves starving or under attack. It is not obvious why evolution would not have encouraged the ability to focus on more than one thing at once. Yet do we actually operate this way? Is it one thing or nothing? Apparently not.

Have you been stuck on a problem then either forgotten about it or had a good sleep and awoke with the answer? This is a common experience and research into it has shown that our subconscious is always at work on multiple tasks and, in fact, when people feel they are being Wu Wei and just getting things done by not really trying, when they master a particular act so much that even the complexities of say drawing happen just as breathing, it is the subconscious at work. It is known by all in that state that if they become too conscious of the event, then they'll flop.

Is the feeling of being conscious of only one thing at a time perhaps a flaw in our thinking? Could it be that if we operated entirely from our subconscious and never have conscious attention enter the picture that life really would flow with the Tao in perfect Wu Wei?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Crown Pork Roast

Lately, I have been trying to get away from eating a lot of meat. I'm trying to achieve a better balance in my diet and add more variety also. Today is the first time this week I've eaten a four legged animal. Since my breathing has gotten better, I decided to roll the dice and go for the grand daddy of all pork related meals and cook a Crown Pork Roast for my coworkers tonight. It was amazing. I've made this before but each time it gets a little better as I adjust seasonings and cooking times. I cooked this at home today and let it finish at the oven in work while I made the stuffing, carrots and gravy. Here are the directions I use if you would like to try this. It looks more intimidating than it really is, especially if you have the butcher french the bones and tie the roast himself.

Cook the stuffing separately from the roast. Cooking with the stuffing in the center or cavity of the roast takes longer and may dry-out the meat.

Cook the roast in a pre-heated oven at 350°. General cooking time is 1 ¼ hours to 1 ¾ hours depending on the number of ribs and thickness of the meat.

Place a tin foil ball or a firm fitting tin can (label removed and washed) in the center of the roast. Both methods will help in retaining the shape of the roast and help it cook more evenly. If using a can it will create a chimney effect that can help the meat cook more quickly and circulate the hot air in the oven.

Season the roast to your liking. I use a combo of dried lemon peel, granulated garlic, fresh ground pepper, meat tenderizer, Spanish paprika, minced onion and sea salt. These are all one tablespoon measurements except for the lemon peel and sea salt which are 1/2 teaspoon measurements. Combine all seasonings in a zip top bag and shake until well mixed. Place a small piece of tin foil as a cap over the tip of each of the bones. Allow the roast to rest on the kitchen counter for twenty minutes before cooking.

Use a meat thermometer. When the internal temperature reaches 140° to 145° the roast can be removed from the oven. Keep in mind that when the roast is removed from the oven and is resting before carving, it will continue to cook a little more and allow the juices to come back to the center of the roast.

After cooking remove the roast from the oven and allow it to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Slice the roast between the ribs allowing approximately one rib per serving or more if serving real hungry firefighters.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chicken Whacked

Chicken Whacked                       Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts,
4 eggs
pesto sauce
fresh shaved sharp provolone cheese
vegetable oil
4 long sandwich rolls
red onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat vegetable oil over medium heat in a skillet or non stick pan. Butterfly cut the chicken breasts, then cut in half, creating four pieces, set aside. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl. Place breadcrumbs on a plate. Dip each piece of chicken in the egg, letting the excess drip off. Coat chicken with breadcrumbs and fry for two minutes on each side. Remove from oil and pat away excess oil with a paper towel. Place chicken on an ungreased baking sheet and place in oven for twelve minutes. Remove chicken from oven and brush with pesto sauce and layer the provolone cheese on top. Return chicken to oven for five minutes to melt cheese. Remove from oven and place on sandwich roll with lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where Were You?

Tomorrow marks 11 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Every year ceremonies are held marking the date that is by far the darkest in American history. Do you remember where you were? Or what you were doing?

I was working in the firehouse. B platoon at Engine 55. The inner city. Two minutes from the geographical epicenter of Philadelphia. I was the assigned driver on that day so it was my responsibility to check out & wash the apparatus, then clean the tools.

When the first plane hit I was washing some of the tools that had been used earlier on a grass/brush fire under the railroad tracks on 5th Street. My lieutenant came out and called me inside. When I got to the watch desk area all I saw was a flaming hole in the World Trade Center.

When the second plane hit there was dead silence in the firehouse. We had all been watching on television. By now, we knew it was a terrorist attack. As the FDNY & NYPD responded, we began to discuss how this would would be handled. It was early still and the buildings would have to be evacuated and there were tactical issues as far as firefighting was concerned. Do you attack the fire head on? Do you allow the sprinklers to do their job? What do you do?

Then the towers started collapsing. Again, dead silence in the firehouse. You could hear a pin drop. Looks of shock registering on the faces of my co workers. It is the only time in my life that I've seen a room full of men in tears. We knew when everyone was running out of those towers that our brothers in the FDNY were running in, doing what they were trained to do.

Not long after, the Pentagon was hit and an airliner crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
We were, as a nation, under attack.

A short time later an announcement came over the PA system stating we were on our highest alert. Then it started. We ran our asses off that day. Medical responses, auto fires, a bedroom on fire. I remember thinking all day, each time we responded, "Are we next?" "Am I going to go home today?" It's the only time in my career that I've confronted my mortality and wondered "what if?"

This was truly the saddest day of my career in the fire service.

Over 2,700 people perished on 9/11/01. 343 of them were brother firefighters from New York. I'll never forget & they will always remain in my memory.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment if you wish. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Hero

Today's blog post deals with heroes. Specifically, one hero in particular.

What Makes a Hero? If I ask you to list some heroes in your heart, I bet you can think of many. There are many heroes near or distant from us. But if I ask you what is a "hero", what will you say? It's kind of hard to give a definition, isn't it? When I checked the dictionary, it says a hero is a person who distinguished by courage, noble deeds, outstanding achievements and so on. I won't say I disagree with that, but that definition misses something. To be a hero, you do need to be brave to make differences, but you also need a heart that is unselfish and full of love.

Heroes come in all genders, shapes, and sizes & although a hero may not consider themselves a hero, someone else may and that's the kicker! Heroes act without thinking, putting the needs of others before their own and usually don't consider those actions to be of a heroic nature feeling that's just how I do things or it's part of my job.

So, I want to tell you about someone who I, and a few others consider a hero. My hero's name is BethAnn Jablonski. Beth is a paramedic who sees tragedy day in and day out, responding to the worst EMS calls possible; Codes (no pulse, no breathing), drug overdoses, shootings, stabbings, trauma incidents, motor vehicle accidents & the like.

Like most public safety personnel, Beth likes to unwind and get past these horrible incidents of the human life cycle. Beth's "decompression chamber" is the casino. Specifically, the slot machines.

Last December, Beth was at Parx Casino with her son, unwinding and hoping for a hit on the slots when she heard a commotion and saw some people gathering in a circle. Beth told her son "I'll be right back" and ran over to the commotion. What Beth saw was a man lying on the casino floor, unconscious. She jumped right in, checking the man's vital signs. Finding none, Beth initiated life saving procedures by performing CPR & attaching an automated external defibrillator & shocking the gentleman's heart twice. The second shock restored the man's pulse. Beth continued working on this gentleman & monitoring his condition until the arrival of local paramedics who transported the man to the hospital where it was later learned that the man was in stable condition and would survive.

For these actions, Beth received my union's Heroism Award at our annual Recognition Day, today. Beth isn't one who seeks the spotlight or recognition for her work but her selfless actions on that day last December saved the life of an individual and extended his time on Mother Earth and I want to to thank her for what she did & give her the recognition that she deserves.

Well done Beth, well done! I am proud to know you and even prouder to call you my friend. You went over and above on that day last December and proved once again that those who work in Emergency Services are dedicated, selfless individuals who are on duty 24/7, no matter where they are & to us it it's a calling, and not just a job. 

For all the kudos you received, I feel the need to step it up by saying that if I ever need lifesaving care, I hope it's you that's coming to save me.

Although you shy away from the recognition that you so rightly deserve, stand tall today Beth and enjoy your moment in the sun!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Avocado Turkey Burgers

Avocado Turkey Burgers

1 ripe, Fresh  Avocado
1 ½ tsp. lemon juice, plus extra as needed
2 Tbsp. diced green chili peppers
1egg, lightly beaten
2 tsp.chopped green onion
1clove garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp. salt
1 lb. ground turkey
4 slices of cheese (your choice)
4hamburger buns, split and toasted
 lettuce leaves (your choice)
4 thin slices tomato

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
Halve avocado lengthwise and remove seed; then peel. Slice the avocado and coat pieces with lemon juice; set aside.
In a bowl, mash remaining avocado half. Stir in chile peppers, egg, onion, the remaining lemon juice, garlic and salt.
Add beef and combine thoroughly (mixture will be moist).
With your hands, shape meat into 4 patties, each about 3/4 inch thick.
Grill patties for 4-5 minutes on each side. Patties are done when juices run clear. Place cheese slice on patties, close grill lid and cook until cheese begins to melt 45 - 60 seconds.
Arrange patties on bottoms of buns and top each patty with lettuce leaves, tomato slice, and a few avocado slices. Place bun tops on patties and serve. 

Red Velvet Pancakes

This is just a "feel good" breakfast item combining two of my favorite things; pancakes and red velvet cake. I hope you enjoy it.

Red Velvet Pancakes

1 1/2 cups prepared pancake batter
2 eggs
3 tbsp melted salted butter
2 tbsp oil (I used tangerine infused olive oil)
1/2 cup water
2 cups red velvet cake mix
confectioners sugar
Pam or similar non stick spray

Combine eggs, butter, oil and water. Beat with a whisk until liquid is well combined and foamy. Add red velvet mix and pancake batter. Mix with a whisk until combined. Do not over beat (batter should be lumpy). Set batter aside for 30 minutes before cooking. Spray non stick spray on a hot griddle.  Drop about 2 oz. of batter on a hot, greased griddle. Cook until bubbly, a little dry around the edges, and lightly browned on the bottom; turn and brown the other side. Do not pat down pancakes or they will flatten. Plate pancakes and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Broiled Scallops, Pesto Pasta, & Roasted Asparagus

Hi Folks,

Here is a very easy broiled scallops recipe that will knock your socks off. It will get you rave reviews reviews because the flavor just jumps out at you. I've served this over angel hair pasta with pesto sauce (recipe below) and roasted asparagus (recipe below).


Broiled Scallops

2 lb. sea or bay scallops
4 tbsp. melted butter
1/4 tbsp. garlic salt
4 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. oregano
4 tbsp. orange juice

Combine melted butter, salt, garlic, lemon juice and oregano; pour over scallops. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain and save marinade. Arrange scallops in a shallow metal broiling  pan. Broil 4 inches from broiler for 10 minutes until lightly brown. Add juice  to marinade - spoon over scallops. Broil 1-2 minutes longer.

Basil Pesto Sauce


3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Combine basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend to a smooth paste. Add parsley if desired.

 Oven Roasted Asparagus


1 bunch thin asparagus spears, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Place the asparagus into a mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the spears, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange the asparagus onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake in the preheated oven until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice just before serving.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Yin Yang and Taoism

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin-yang, which is often referred to in the West as "yin and yang", literally meaning "shadow and light", is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn in relation to each other. The concept lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine, and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts  and exercise, such as t'ai chi, and qigong. Many natural dualities such as, dark and light, female and male, low and high, cold and hot, water and fire, earth and air—are thought of as manifestations of yin and yang.
Yin and yang are not opposing forces, but complementary forces, unseen (hidden, feminine) and seen (manifest, masculine), that interact to form a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system. Everything has both yin and yang aspects as light could not be understood if darkness didn't exist, and shadow cannot exist without light. Either of these aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object depending on the criterion of the observation. The concept of yin and yang is often symbolized by various forms of the Taijiu symbol, for which it is probably best known in western cultures.
There is a perception (especially in the West) that yin and yang correspond to evil and good. However, in Taoist (pronounced Daoist) metaphysics, good/bad distinctions and other moral judgments are perceptual and not real, and yin-yang is an indivisible whole. In the ethics of Confucianism on the other hand, most notably in the philosophy of Dong Zhongshu, a moral dimension is attached to the idea of yin and yang.

In Taoist philosophy, dark and light, yin and yang, arrives in the daodejing at Chapter 42. It becomes sensible from an initial quiescence or emptiness,  which is sometimes symbolized by an empty circle, and continues moving until quiescence is reached again. For instance, dropping a stone in a calm pool of water will simultaneously raise waves and lower troughs between them, and this alternation of high and low points in the water will radiate outward until the movement dissipates and the pool is calm once more. Yin and yang thus are always opposite and equal qualities. Further, whenever one quality reaches its peak, it will naturally begin to transform into the opposite quality: for example, a sunflower that reaches its full height in summer will produce seeds and die back in winter  in an endless cycle. It is impossible to talk about yin or yang without some reference to the opposite, since yin and yang are bound together as parts of a mutual whole. For example, you cannot have the back of a hand without the front. A way to illustrate this idea is to postulate the notion of a race with only men or only women; this race would disappear in a single generation. Yet, men and women together create new generations that allow the race they mutually create and mutually come from to survive. The interaction of the two gives birth to things. Yin and yang transform each other: like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall. Thus, a seed will sprout from the earth and grow upwards towards the sky – an intrinsically yang movement. Then, when it reaches its full potential height, it will fall.

Many places in China, such as Luoyang, contain the word "Yang", and a few, such as Huayin, contain the word "yin". This is a very old way to assign place names.
Classically, when used in place names, "yang" refers to the "sunny side". The word taiyang, refers to the sun, and literally means "great yang". In the northern hemisphere, sunlight comes predominantly from the south, and so the south face of a mountain, or the north face of a river valley will get more direct sunlight. Therefore, "Yang" means a place is on the south slope of a mountain (or on the north bank of a river valley). For example, Luoyang is on the north bank of the Luo River Valley.
In the same way, "yin" would be the opposite, the "shadowy side". "Yin" means that a place is on the north slope of a mountain (or on the south bank of a river). For example, Huayin is on the north slope of Mount Hua.

Yang is the white side with the black dot on it, and yin is the black side with the white dot on it. The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.
Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime.
Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.

The principle of yin and yang is represented in Taoism by the Taijitu, literally meaning the diagram of the supreme ultimate. The term is commonly used to mean the simple 'divided circle' form, but may refer to any of several schematic diagrams representing these principles.  Similar symbols have also appeared in other cultures, such as in Celtic art and Roman shield markings. 

The Taijitu and concept of the Zhou period reach into family and gender relations. Yin is female and yang is male. They fit together as two parts of a whole. The male principle was equated with the sun: active, bright, and shining; the female principle corresponds to the moon: passive, shaded, and reflective. Male toughness was balanced by female gentleness, male action and initiative by female endurance and need for completion.

In the taijitu, the circle itself represents a whole, while the black and white areas within it represent interacting parts or manifestations of the whole. The white area represents yang elements, and is generally depicted as rising on the left, while the dark (yin) area is shown descending on the right. The image is designed to give the appearance of movement. Each area also contains a large dot of a differing color at its fullest point (near the zenith and nadir of the figure) to indicate how each will transform into the other.
The Taijitu symbol is an important symbol in martial arts, particularly Taijiquan, and Jeet Kune Do. In this context, it is generally used to represent the interplay between hard and soft techniques.

Simplified, there will always be yang, where there is yin and there will always be yin where there is yang.  As I wrote earlier, yin and yang are complimentary, not opposing. One cannot survive without the other. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

To Run

Tonight I'd like to talk about running for stress relief. Running for me is like a state of Zen. It's just me, my breathing and my pace. I've been dealing with a lot of stress lately and, as has been the case during many stressful times in my life, running has been a great source of stress relief. Running can be the perfect distraction when you're dealing with a difficult situation. And the endorphins your body releases during running can give your mood a natural boost. Below, I'll  explain more reasons why running is the perfect stress reliever and how I use running to help manage stress.

As the world becomes more health-conscious, there has been an increased focus on the importance of exercise. Many people exercise to control weight and get in better physical condition to become more healthy or physically attractive, but exercise and stress management are also closely linked. Exercise can be an extremely effective stress reliever for several reasons:

When life’s annoyances or frustrating situations build up, you can feel stressed or experience low-grade anger. More high-energy forms of exercise like boxing, martial arts or weight training can also provide an effective release of these negative emotions, turning these otherwise potentially unhealthy emotions into motivation for increased health and well-being.

Running can decrease ‘stress hormones' like cortisol and increase endorphins, your body's ‘feel-good’ chemicals, giving your mood a natural boost. This is the chemistry behind a runners high.

Physical activity itself can take your mind off of your problems and either redirect it on the activity at hand or get you into a Zen-like state. Exercise usually involves a change of scenery as well, either taking you to a gym, a dojo, a boxing ring, a park, a scenic mountain, a biking trail or a neighborhood sidewalk, all of which can be pleasant, low-stress places.

I have to include this possibly superficial, but significant, benefit of exercise: it helps you lose weight, tone your body, and maintain a healthy glow and a smile. You may feel a subtle but significant boost as your clothes look more flattering on, and you project an aura of increased confidence and strength. Call me shallow, but this does impact many people, and can relieve stress for those who are concerned with their appearance and worry that they don’t look as healthy as they could.

While stress can cause illness, illness can also cause stress, with the physical pain, missed activities, feelings of isolation and other costs that come with it. So improving your overall health and longevity with exercise can also save you a great deal of stress in the short run by strengthening your immunity to colds, the flu and other minor illnesses and the long run by helping you stay healthier longer, and enjoy life more because of it.

That's right, research suggests that physical activity, such as running may be linked to lower physiological reactivity toward stress. Simply put, those who run more exercise may become less affected by the stress they face. So, in addition to all the other benefits, running may supply some immunity toward future stress as well as a way to cope with current stress. If that's not a great reason to get more active, I don't know what is!

Philly neighborhoods: Lawncrest, 7:15 am

Monday, September 3, 2012


I would like to blog tonight about meditation. I've been meditating for a little over a year now and although I have a long way to go, I have experienced a clarity and peace that I've never known or felt before. I have better focus and although my OCD and need for structure manifests itself from time to time, my spirit flies freer now than ever before in adulthood. Meditation has helped me to let go much more than ever before. So much that when I was in Indiana in April, I put my life and schedule in someone else's hands for three days. This was a major accomplishment for me.

Do you know how some people are natural swimmers, soccer players, artists and musicians? Well, I think I may be a natural meditator. It's not that meditating has come easier for me than others because everyone moves at a different pace when moving through meditation but because meditating feels so natural to me.

Anyway, below are some thoughts and musings on meditation. These suggestions and ideas work well for me and they may for you also. Enjoy

When you meditate regularly, you start to confront the nagging mind, which drags you constantly out of focus. You start to see how your perceptions are shaped by your own concerns, fears and hopes, which shut us off inside, we become lost in the constant barrage of thoughts that arise within the vortex of our minds.

It’s vitally important to understand that meditation is active work, the work of constantly keeping the mind ‘soft’ and bringing it back to the object of attention. It’s not about being lost in distraction, nor daydreaming, nor getting into a ‘nice inner space’, however enjoyable. Its to reach out mentally and hold your attention still – it’s as simple and as difficult as that.

One of the greatest drawbacks in meditation, is the ambition to becoming enlightened, or attain your ‘higher self’. These desires are actually destructive - the very act of trying to attain anything is a part of the distraction.

You may well experience your "higher self"– you might sense chakras opening and all sorts of subtle changes may take place within the physical and etheric bodies. However, don’t yearn for, or chase these experiences, or feel disappointed if you don’t have them. These are staging posts, and it’s important not to get stuck on any one of them.

Remember that meditation is not the property of any particular religious group, you don’t have to be a Buddhist, nor a spiritualist, nor a mystic, it’s a simple and natural function of the mind that anyone possesses, and can easily practice.

The first thing you need to do is establish a regular time for your practice. Then find a place, preferably the same place. Don’t worry if you can’t get complete peace and quiet either, learn to focus in distracting circumstances.

Try to get comfortable, without necessarily being in a perfect yoga posture. If you don’t go to sleep, it’s fine to be lying down, but this can encourage drowsiness and mental drift, therefore a position on a stool, or on a pile of cushions, or in a chair with the back straight, is best.

A good, basic practice, is to count the breath, but by all means try chanting, or contemplating an object. I focus on a picture of a field of gold flowers that I took in Indiana this past April. Before that I focused on my mala beads. You could try focusing on a flower, or a crystal, or any other natural object.

Whatever the object of your attention, reach out and mentally ‘grasp’ the object and hold the focus there. No matter how many times you get lost, keep coming back to the focus object. Every time you do so, you become stronger.

Keep the mind soft and relaxed, reach out very gently with the gentlest, lightest touch. Don’t get annoyed with yourself if you find you’ve been thinking about that annoying coworker for the last ten minutes. Bring yourself back to focus, gently stay on course, this is the beginning of a journey that never ends.

Try to have a sense of being all in this moment, completely involved in this experience, the greatest treasure is here and now, not in the yearning for any other experience than the one you are presently having.

After you have been practicing a while, you will find that concentration, intuition and inspiration improve, you feel more relaxed, and you sleep better.

It’s a myth, by the way, that you must avoid sex and sensual experiences in order to deepen you meditation practice. A healthier sense of judgement and a more holistic view of life arises as one cuts the tether to the ‘mad, restless, ego I’. Things seem to take on a sense of proportion, and universality.

We all experience meditation differently, and we all flower spiritually in different ways. Enjoy your experience and let meditation help you to grow as an individual.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you enjoyed this little insight into my meditations. Before I go I have to give thanks to Isabella Valentine for introducing me to meditation. In the year I have been meditating I have achieved a peace and comfort level that I never was able to reach through organized religion. Goddess Isabella, for introducing me to meditation, and the host of other things you've done to improve my quality of life, I'm eternally grateful and forever in your debt. Mahalo. I love you dearly and I always will.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pomegranate Soup

Fall is just around the corner and at least in Philadelphia, the temperature will begin to drop soon, little by little. Since that's the case, fall is a great time for soups and this one is a favorite of mine. Here's the recipe. I hope you enjoy it. More soup recipes to come!

  • 3/4 cup lentils,
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups (2 quarts) water
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice 
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons crushed dried leaf mint
  • 2 Tablespoons raisins

Rinse lentils several (4-5) times. Set aside to drain.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add sweet onions and toss to coat. Gently saute onions until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and saute 2 additional minutes.

Add water, drained lentils, rice, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer on low about 45 minutes, until lentils and rice are tender.

Add basil, green onions, and pomegranate juice to the soup. Simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet, add mint and saute until butter turns golden.

Divide soup into serving bowls. Drizzle each with the mint brown butter and sprinkle with a few raisins to serve.

This makes 6 to 8 servings depending o the size of the bowl you use. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Freedom of Speech

I'm not sure if many of you know, but I am a firefighter in a major Pennsylvania city. I cannot tell you which city because the fire department that employs me has recently come out with a social media policy that prohibits the members of the fire department from mentioning in any way, shape, or form that we are employees of said fire department. No acknowledging what we do, who we work for, no pictures, no pride,  nothing. No social media whatsoever while working.

Also, when in an off duty status, as a private citizen, we are not permitted to speak out on matters of concern that involve the City & finally we are not permitted to use our cell phones while on duty unless it's an emergency.

What say you, Ray? This is crazy! It sure is my friends and followers!

I can understand the first part. If my employer doesn't want it Tweeted or Facebooked that I work for them then that is their right as my employer and if I wish to remain employed in this big city in Pennsylvania, in the greatest job in the world, then I have to follow that rule.

My issues are with the second and third parts of the social media policy.

I think that the city is being a bit heavy handed and totalitarian when they say that as a private citizen, in an off duty status, not representing myself as a firefighter, that I cannot voice my opinion on matters of concern involving the city where I reside and work. Basically, I cannot say that I don't feel the police are doing a good job in crime prevention because they are so shorthanded or you may suffer a serious medical emergency in the city and no medic units will be available because my city's EMS system is severely understaffed or a small house fire may become a tragedy because the Mayor closed the fire company closest to you home or the City has money to fund a HUGE holiday weekend concert where they won't recoup one red cent but have no money to fund contracts for three out of four municipal unions. You get the picture.

And the asinine cell phone rule. ??? I can agree with this when on a fire scene, medical response and such or when training but to say I cannot call the one I love and say goodnight or I love you just boggles my mind. The city doesn't allow us to use the City phone system for personal calls so in effect, communication with family and friends is cut off while on duty.

I love my job, don't get me wrong but this is flat out czarish and heavy handed. It's silencing my right to freedom of speech which is guaranteed to me in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, covered in The Bill Of Rights. I see this social media policy as a small stepping stone for the City. If this goes unchallenged, the next thing that will happen is that employees who work in my city won't be able to voice their opinions in any type of forum at all! No public protests, no letters to the editor, nothing.

I'm not taking this lying down. I'm taking a stand and I will be heard. I have been in contact with the local branch of the ACLU and I intend to sue my employer for violating my right to free speech under the First Amendment. I'm not looking for anything other than restoration of my right to be heard.

I believe that all Americans have a right to be heard and that whether positive or negative, silencing that right is just plain wrong. This is going to be a long and difficult road & my employer may make life difficult for me but I refuse to back down.

Win, lose or draw, in the end at least I will be able to say that I stood up for what I believed in and said "I am."

Thanks for listening. It felt good to get this off of my chest. Take care of yourselves & I promise tomorrow's posting will be of a much lighter nature.


Firehouse Mac N Cheese

Hello everyone! This recipe is a firehouse favorite. It's tasty, & gooey. Pure comfort food. Full of carbs, it will make you feel good just by eating it! I hope you enjoy it. 

1 lb elbow macaroni or shells
16 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup butter (I use "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter")
5 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook pasta "al dente" according to directions (about 8 - 10 minutes).
While pasta is cooking, in a saucepan combine flour, butter and milk. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly and bring to a boil. Once a boil has been achieved, lower heat to medium & add 8 oz of shredded cheese and mix well with a wooden spoon until cheese is melted and mixed. Place pasta in a 13 x 9 oven proof bakeware dish and pour cheese sauce mix over pasta & toss until well mixed. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top of pasta and bake for 30 minutes or so until cheese has become bubbly. Makes 8 - 10 servings. You will most likely have leftovers but that's ok because it tastes even better reheated the next day! Enjoy!