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Santa Barbara favorites, old and new

Sometimes I feel like I live a charmed life because I get to spend time in such charming places. Santa Barbara is one of those places. My first visit was back in 2005 and, since then, it’s become something of a second yoga home for me: Santa Barbara Yoga Center offers advanced studies and yoga teacher training, and it’s where I’ve chosen to do some of my specialized trainings — Prenatal Yoga, Kids Yoga, Yin Yoga and, this weekend, a meditation training. Each time I visit, I can count on a weekend of rejuvenation, whether I’m puddle-jumping like this past Friday night or walking along State Street in the sunshine (Sunday morning). When I’m not in the yoga room, I love exploring the shops and restaurants and, of course, taking some time to walk along the beach and smell the salt in the air. I have quite a few little favorite spots in this town, and I’m always finding someplace new when I visit to add to my list of favorites. Here’s a few to check out if you’re lucky enough to visit SB yourself anytime soon! Spiritland Bistro Of all the fantastic restaurants, this is the one I make sure I visit at least once anytime I’m in town. The intimate atmosphere, which always features works by local artists, is the perfect setting for a wonderful, all-organic meal. The very first time I visited in 2005, I was curious to try my first “raw” dish ever: I went with the Raw Spinach Mushroom Lasagna, and it was a marvelous gastronomical awakening! Rather than layers of pasta noodles, the lasagna is comprised of delicate slices of  zucchini, layered with mushrooms, red peppers, spinach, and a raw nut ricotta. I revisited the lasagna during this trip, along with the soup of the day, which was Potato-Leek with Wild Mushroom. Insanely delicious!  Slivers of mushroom added the perfect touch of texture and flavor to this soup, which was just what I needed to warm me up on such a rainy my-socks-are-wet night. For a second dinner (!) at Spiritland during my visit, I started with the Carribean Curried Sweet Potato Soup and then opted for an entree salad of mixed greens with diced roasted beets, butternut squash, and bits of vegan mozzarella. So good! Finally, a word about the service here, which is always amazing. Jord and Nitsa both were like instant old friends… and Nitsa saved the day when she double-checked for me about the ingredients in the vinaigrette that would usually come with the salad I ordered. Allergy crisis averted — thanks, Nitsa! Reflexology at The Health Gallery It was in Santa Barbara...

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A Visit to the National Elk Refuge

On our recent ski getaway to Jackson Hole, we had the opportunity to visit the National Elk Refuge. The visit was not something we’d planned ahead of time. I had no idea such a place existed until we arrived. I like to call these surprises when I’m traveling the “bubble gum in the Blow Pop” moments — you remember the lollipops with the bubble gum at the center? The “bubble gum” moments make what’s already a great trip even better. Each year, thousands of elk migrate from their higher elevations in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone to the 25,000 acres of refuge in Wyoming, where they will spend the winter months. Established in 1912, the National Elk Refuge is one of 550 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge system. Our visit on January 6th was the first day of this season when the refuge, managed by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, distributed pellets of alfalfa hay to the elk — providing them with food when it is most scarce. Here, some 6,000 elk will remain until the weather grows warmer and the snow line recedes up the surrounding mountains. Typically, the elk on the refuge range from three to ten years old, though elk can live upwards of twenty years. According to our guide, about 65% of the elk are female (called “cows”) and about 60% of them are pregnant during this winter stay. Although the cows tend to be more timid than the male “bulls” with their impressive antlers, one cow came quite close to us, and stood there gazing for a while before moving on with one of her female friends of the herd. As she stood there and she and I sustained eye contact, I had a few moments of what I can best describe as pure peacefulness. Being so close to wildlife, witnessing nature going about an ordinary day, is as humbling as it is awe-inspiring. Interesting tidbit: The bulls shed their antlers each year, starting to grow new ones right away; and their antler patterns remain the same each time, which is helpful for identification purposes. At the Elk Refuge, local Boy Scouts have the sole permit to go onto the refuge to collect the antlers left behind, once the elk have gone back up into the surrounding mountains. The antlers can be worth in total more than $80,000. The Boy Scouts get to keep 20% of whatever is made at the annual antler auction held in the latter half of May, and the rest goes back into funding for the...

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Kudos to Teton Village

After a glorious getaway to the slopes, I wanted to praise the hotels and restaurants of Teton Village in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ski villages have a culture all their own, and often this is especially reflected in available cuisine. However, our meals during this past vacation were great examples of how, even in what was once the domain of elk burgers and bison, tastes are evolving. And, even when it seems like your selection may be limited, all it takes is a little tweaking to turn a vacation meal into something indulgent and cruelty-free. Most of the time, explaining to a food server that I’m vegan is met with enthusiasm, along with a hint of curiosity and a pinch of admiration; he will not only be accommodating, but he’ll want to talk about my experiences giving up animal-based foods. The few times that I’ve been met with initial skepticism or an air of inconvenience, I’ve been able to notice an almost immediate change in attitude once the server sees that I’m pleasant and eager to keep the tweaking to a minimum by using other items available on the menu as substitutes. (It also helps to tip well, if I plan on coming back… and requesting the same server in the future.)  So, here are some of the wonderful meals we enjoyed after days of great views and powder, and lots of winter-wonderland fun. Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa We started our days at Cascade, with a vegan twist on their Traditional Continental Breakfast. Original menu offering: fresh fruit (cantaloupe, honeydew, and pineapple slices) and berries, yogurt, and banana bread.  Our version: fresh fruit and berries, a toasted bagel (or toasted English muffin, on another morning) in place of the banana bread. Because there was no dairy-free substitute available for our bagel, I asked if they wouldn’t mind giving us some sauteed mushrooms and peppers (available for the omelettes) in place of the yogurt, which was the perfect topping. Finishing off breakfast: coffee with soy milk, which was available though not listed on the menu.  Lunch at Cascade was an even easier tweak: the Garden Muffaletta sandwich was a combination of portobellos, zucchini, grilled tomato, arugula, provolone, and basil aioli on focaccia.  Hold the provolone, and we enjoyed a fabulous cruelty-free lunch!  I had mine with a side of fresh fruit salad; my husband Seth opted for the sweet potato fries. The Four Seasons In the hotel’s Lobby Lounge, one evening we had a laid back dinner by the fireplace. Good wine and hold-the-fish sushi. There were plenty of nori roll options for us to savor: grilled asparagus rolls, shitake mushroom,...

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Reflections from the Lincoln Memorial
Jul23

Reflections from the Lincoln Memorial

My weeks here in Washington D.C. have been flying by!  I’ve been making the most of my time — learning so much through the legal internship, taking lots of yoga classes, visiting some of my old haunts, and catching up with all my east-coast friends.  Finally, I set aside time in the schedule to make it over to the National Mall. My first time at the Lincoln Memorial is one of my earliest memories: a family trip to Washington, D.C. when I was only four years old.  I remember the stairs leading up to the statue seemed like they went on forever, waves in a sea of white.  As I stood at the base of the statue of Lincoln in his chair, I was so small that, when I looked up, I couldn’t see Lincoln’s face; all I could see were the massive hands that stretched over the ends of the chair’s arms.  And then, I remember how my perspective changed as my father took me in his arms and lifted me up and set me on his shoulders. In one sweeping motion, it all came together.  I stared into the mammoth face. Since that time, I have revisited the memorial many times and, at least in part, it’s because of this early memory that the Lincoln Memorial is extra special to me among all the monuments.  I have walked up its steps countless times, with many people who have figured heavily in my own life through the years: layers of context that, taken together, have an added poignancy well beyond the significance of each instance.  Since that first visit, of course I’ve also learned more about Lincoln as a man, and about his place in American history. I now read much more into the stoic expression on the statue’s face. And I’ve developed an appreciation for all that has transpired on the same steps I struggled to climb with my toddler legs and now leap up with my adult legs.  Now, from the top of the steps as I look over the Mall and towards the Washington Monument in the distance, I think of Marian Anderson, an African-American woman with the voice of an angel, singing on the steps in 1939 to a crowd of 75,000 people; the open-air concert came about because she was refused the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall for an integrated audience.  Each time I visit the memorial, I will always reflect on the milestones in our national history that it celebrates as much as it pays tribute to Mr. Lincoln himself: the end of slavery, the culmination of the civil rights movement, and...

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Hotel Kudos
Apr13

Hotel Kudos

This past weekend I was staying at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In town for an Animal Law conference, I was already feeling inspired when I arrived at Harvard Square.  Adding to my delight, I found my hotel room stocked with bath & body products by EO, one of my favorite cruelty-free product lines.  It was like walking into my own private little spa!  I’ve already extolled EO’s Hinoki & Ginger Bubble Bath; today, I sing the praises of The Charles and other hotels making similar choices that reflect a more eco-conscious and animal-friendly philosophy.  When you consider just how many people come and go in a single hotel room, and then multiply that by the number of rooms in a single hotel — what an impact the hospitality industry can have in creating a greater demand for cruelty-free alternatives on the market! In addition to the bath & body provisions, hotels also are making great strides when they offer down-alternative pillows and comforters.  Although this is likely in large part a response to all of us with allergies, the availability of alternatives to down deserves some attention and praise as well.  I recently booked a room for an upcoming conference at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington DC.  As part of the online reservation process, I was able to select a feather-free room.  Magna Cum Laude, Marriott! Once upon a time, non-smoking rooms at hotels were available upon request.  Now they’re the norm.  I’m optimistic that “cruelty-free” rooms can be the next new norm.  How to keep us moving in that direction: If you stay at a hotel that provides cruelty-free products and feather-free rooms, express your appreciation!  Tell the front desk, tell the concierge… and include some kudos of your own in any written comments.  Let as many people at the hotel know you noticed, you care, and you’re happy about what they have to offer. If you stay at a hotel that doesn’t offer such amenities, offer some polite feedback.  Again, let the hotel know you notice the details, you care, and you’d appreciate any efforts they make in the future.  Also, you might mention another hotel that does include cruelty-free options — nothing like a little bench-marking to provide some extra...

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