Friday, December 7, 2018

Catching up Summer and Fall in California and Hawaii

It’s been over four months since we posted to our blog. We are catching up now, starting with a trip to Tassajara, a Zen monastery in the Big Sur wilderness that allows lay people to visit during the summer.

We had volunteered during a work practice period at Tassajara three years ago. During that time Kristina had worked on the wall by the front gate.

This time our trip was with Kristina’s cousin and best friend Cynthia and her husband Humberto. It was particularly great to visit Tassajara with them because for years the four of us had made an annual trip there.

Our last trip together was in 2004 when their oldest son Julian was only one year old. Not much had changed, except there was a lovely new yoga studio that we used each day.

Swimming in “The Narrows” was a highlight, although the water level was lower than in the past.

It felt relaxing to air dry on the rocks after a refreshing swim, and our time there went by quickly.

Back in San Francisco we walked around Golden Gate Park.

We met our friend Chris and his daughter Mira for dinner.

We stayed a couple nights at Pete’s sister Csilla’s house. Together we visited the UC Berkeley Art Museum. Pete and Csilla had fun arranging the modular furniture.

The exhibit we liked most was by a Chilean-born artist named Cecilia Vicuña. It was entitled “lo precario”, which was translated as “about to happen”.

We had gelato at Lush afterwards. Pete’s mango sorbet was especially good.

Happily, our nephew Erich was home from San Luis Obispo for the summer and we got to hang out some with him.

We flew down to San Diego and stayed with Kristina’s folks Patty and Bill. They took us to Trust for dinner.

We ordered lots of seasonal vegetable dishes.

We went to San Diego to attend our niece Megan's wedding. Her parents Debby and Steve are looking at Megan and Sean in this photo.

It was a lovely setting and the wedding colors were navy and mustard.

We’ve known Sean since Megan was in high school and we are happy he’s now (officially) part of the family!

Here's a photo with the women in Kristina's female. From right are Kristina, mom Patty, niece Megan, sister Debby and niece Chelsea.

Pete couldn’t resist taking a selfie.

Steve gave a moving toast to the newlyweds. He and Megan are very close.

Here’s Megan with her flower girls Sydney and Sadie.

Here’s Sean with part of his family: brother Conner (right) was his best man, mom Cathy in light blue, and aunt and uncle in the center.

Megan made silk flowers for her bouquet.

This photo speaks for itself.

The We Smile photo booth was a hit, with all the guests taking photos to give to Megan and Sean.

The props made it fun. Here the unicorn is Megan’s uncle Joel, aunt Tina is in the middle and dad Steve is on the right.

Pete dressed in festive wedding attire.

There were beautiful wedding cakes, which were gluten-free and delicious.

After the wedding we flew to Hawaii for a three month meditation retreat. This is the entrance to the sanctuary with Cody, the cook and carpenter there.

We didn’t realize it, but it was hurricane season when we arrived. We had to postpone the start of our retreat to help prepare for Hurricane Lane.

It rained a lot, but the property didn’t experience high winds.

The sunsets were magnificent.

Luckily, the preparations, such as taping all the windows, were not needed. 

And we were able to start our meditation retreat six days after we arrived. This is the meditation hall where we spent many hours each day. It was built in 2012.

The two lanais on opposite sides were perfect for walking meditation.

We sat on zabutans (the rectangular blue cushions) with zafus (sitting cushions) for seated meditation. Alternating sitting and walking meditation, we typically practiced about twelve hours a day.

Here’s a closer look at the Burmese Buddha at the front of the hall. The hall had no electricity, so we used candles at night.

On the wall hung this splendid Tibetan thangka with the teaching about dependent origination as well as the depiction of the six realms of existence. 

Toward the back was an altar with photos of important teachers who had passed away.

This is Munindra-ji, an Indian scholar and meditation practitioner who studied with Mahasi Sayadaw in Burma.

This is Sayadaw U Pandita. We practiced Vipassana meditation using the techniques he had taught our teachers. He passed away in 2016, and we never met him but we were glad to practice with his teachings while on retreat. 

Part of the practice included noticing when delight was happening, which was often because the sanctuary was such a beautiful place. The warm, tropical climate meant there was frequent rain and rainbows.

This was the view looking up the hill from the meditation center, with curved walls built of lava rocks and the mature trees like these Monkey Pods that fold their leaves up at night.

Here’s a closer look at the walls. The lava rocks came from the property. The invasive vine growing above is glycine.

Pete stayed in this cottage called Sky View. In Thailand the term for these cottages is kuti.

The simple interior provided all he needed for living at the hermitage, and he appreciated all the windows.

Pete’s kuti had a composting toilet that was easy to use and not a problem to maintain.

The compost area on the left was were we dumped the toilet contents every few weeks. It was then covered with dried grass clippings from the center compost bin and watered before putting cardboard over the top. Emptying the toilet offered an opportunity to practice the Buddha’s asubha teachings about the disgusting qualities of the body, which lessen attachment and lust. 

Nestled in among the Honduran Mahogany trees was another kuti named Earth Witness. This quote came from the Buddha came to mind:
I resort to remote jungle-thicket resting places in the forest… I found  great solace in dwelling in the forest… It is because I see two benefits that I still resort to… the forest: I see a pleasant abiding for myself here and now, and I have compassion for future generations.

This path led up to Earth Witness. Over 2,500 trees have been planted on the 13 acre property.

Pete spotted this small Buddha statue in between his kuti and the third kuti named Stone Circle. All the kutis were visually and audibly secluded from each other, allowing for immersion in nature’s sights and sounds.
…there are these trees and the roots of trees… there are empty huts… meditate… do not be negligent lest you regret it later…—the Buddha, from the Anguttara Nikaya

The hermitage was located at an elevation of about 600 meters. This was the view from Stone Circle.

This panorama at sunrise included the full moon setting as the sun came up.

With the balmy temperatures it wasn’t a problem to eat our meals outside on the porch. The sign was a reminder of the importance of being silent. Frequently there was a bouquet on the table, such as these ginger flowers.

The kitchen and dining area were located on a hill. This was the view, including the yurt where Kristina stayed and the roof of the shower room.

The yurt had beautiful native plant landscaping, including several different hybrid ti plants.

The ti plants were blooming while we were on retreat.

The yurt was adjacent to the shower room, which was convenient for Kristina. The vine in the foreground had lightly scented white flowers.

This “bouquet” lasted for several days.

There was a gardenia bush by the yurt that had quite a few buds on it.

Then the bud would bloom and give off a lovely smell.

Kristina cut this gardenia and put it on the altar in the yurt.

She appreciated having a Buddha in her quarters.

Kristina collected feathers, finding mostly myna and turkey feathers.

Pete spotted this Pectoral Sandpiper atop the meditation hall.

There were hundreds of Japanese White Eyes at the sanctuary.

They were nesting in the mahogany trees near Pete’s kuti. One of the nests fell out of the tree, luckily before any eggs had been laid, so Pete could examine and photograph it.

The White Eyes took advantage of the sprinkler, with at least 50 birds perched on the trunk enjoying the water. There was also a Northern Cardinal on an upper branch.

By the yurt a family of cardinals took turns bathing in the sprinklers.

Inside the yurt Kristina had several spider “roommates”. This spider looked like a tarantula and only stayed a few days.

Behind this screen in the yurt another roommate lived for about six weeks, barely moving. Kristina suspected the spider was pregnant because it had a large white "pillow" on its belly. 

Next the spider spent a few nights crawling around in the yurt. You can see the white pillow underneath her body. One morning Kristina found the white pillow on the floor - she put it outside. About a day later the spider (without the pillow) was coaxed to go outside too.

This spider looked like a brown tarantula. It was on the screen door of the yurt.

We saw several toads as we left the meditation hall at night. They would freeze when the light was shined on them, making it easy to take a photo.

Pete called this a leopard slug because of its markings, not because of the speed at which it moved.

This is a mongoose. Not native to Hawaii and preying on the native birds, it was not very welcome. Once Pete saw a barn owl with a mongoose in its talons just before dawn.

In the ti plants outside the yurt Kristina saw two Jackson chameleons. The male had horns.

She thought this was a green gecko, but later learned it was an anole. Check out the length of its tail!

Its feet are different from a gecko, which has suction cups, but the anole was still able to climb vertical surfaces.

The hermitage had a mixed tropical fruit orchard. The lilikoi (passion fruit) vines had lots of flowers and fruits.

This beautiful flower was a Jamaican lilikoi. 

And here’s the resulting fruit. With a less sweet, more rich taste, it reminded us of cheese.

There were a variety of banana trees in the orchard, too.

The Cuban red bananas were quite large and sweet.

After our three months of meditation, we spent a few days reintegrating into the world and starting to talk again. Here Pete is harvesting a rollinia fruit.

It was fun to try a new fruit variety, and it became a favorite. 

Related to cherimoya and soursop, we loved the flavor and custard-like texture.

Also growing on the property were chocolate habaneros.

When we were talking again, Kristina asked Cody if he would show her how to make chocolate habanero hot sauce. The ingredients included: twelve chocolate habaneros (without seeds), one jalapeño, two cloves of garlic, lime juice and six cups of pineapple.

Blended together it was extremely spicy with sweet overtones. We brought it back with us and shared a bottle with Humberto.

On our final day in Hawaii we took Cody out to lunch at an excellent Mexican restaurant called Acevedo's Hawaicano Cafe. This seemed only fair since he had been making delicious vegan lunches for us for the past three months.

We flew back to the Bay Area and spent a week with Pete’s sister Denise and their mom Csilla to celebrate Thanksgiving. She’s pictured here with her oldest grandson Spencer.

Csilla made two kinds of cranberries and mashed potatoes for the Thanksgiving dinner. Pete cooked turkey, gravy, two kinds of stuffing and Brussels sprouts.

This photo of Pete and his sister Csilla show some colorful and full plates. Csilla made mashed sweet potatoes and kale salad.

This overhead photo of the table shows the colors even better. We hosted eleven members of Pete’s family for Thanksgiving.

Here’s the Fenczik clan (front row from left): sister Csilla, mom Csilla, sister Denise, brother Paul, Pete, (back row from left) nephew Erich, brother-in-law Dale, Kristina, nephew Jeremy, Abby’s boyfriend Ethan, niece Abby.

We thought this was an especially cute photo of Pete’s sisters and mom.

Csilla and Dale like puzzles, so Denise brought one to share.

Here’s the finished puzzle of four Geishas representing the four seasons.

Kristina made sweet potato pies.

We celebrated Jeremy’s 21st birthday a few days early. He was able to blow out all the candles on top of the apple crisp in one breath!

After a fun week together, Denise and Csilla drove back to Las Vegas where they live. We met our friend Eric and his partner Tandi in San Francisco for dinner at Shizen, a vegan sushi restaurant in the Mission.

The tempura Brussels sprouts topped with vegan wasabi aoli were outstanding.

We each picked a roll to share. This is Open Invitation, a specialty roll with tempura pumpkin, spiced burdock, shredded tofu topped with lotus chips. The meal was outstanding.

Pete and Eric know each other from work and we had visited him in Bangkok several times. We were glad to meet Tandi and spend an evening together.

Eric told us about Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission. We went for a tasty lunch of (from left) pozole, chips, guacamole, spicy vegan chorizo, plus cauliflower and mushroom tacos.

While walking in Berkeley we came across this yarn graffiti.

In Hawaii, Cody had made us zoodles, zucchini noodles, so we wanted to make them too. One night we made dinner for Csilla and Dale: marinara sauce with vegetables over zoodles.

The Oxo spiralizer also does a good job with butternut squash. Pete made a tasty mushroom and coconut milk sauce to put on top that we served to Cynthia and Humberto.

On Cynthia’s day off we went to Soba Ichi for authentic Japanese soba noodles. She ordered the tempura soba.

It was delicious comfort food for a rainy and cold day!

Kristina made an apple pie for Cynthia and Humberto.

And Pete made vegetarian chiles en nogada, a traditional Mexican dish of stuffed poblano peppers topped with walnut sauce and pomegranate. Typically eaten around Mexican independence day, it features the the colors of the Mexican flag.

We had enjoyed chiles en nogada last September in Mexico City with Pete’s cousins Diana and Alex. Next we be traveling in Chiapas and Mexico City for three weeks.