Meditate with Monterey Bay Aquarium

It’s no secret that meditating reduces anxiety and depression and improves immunity—and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to bolster our physical and emotional health. Research has also shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, according to Harvard Health.

A southern sea otter named Abby in the Sea Otter Exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

So I was thrilled when I opened an e-newsletter from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California informing me that during the time that the aquarium is closed to the public for the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re hosting video meditations (they call them “medit-oceans”) featuring a soothing, 10-minute guided meditation you can do while gazing at some relaxing ocean imagery. (You can join the medit-ocean live at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time, Monday–Friday. You can also find the meditations on YouTube or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Facebook page at any time that you need some nature-based relaxation.)

“This is a stressful time, but connecting with one another digitally and sharing our love of the ocean centers us when so much feels uncertain. We hope you, too, will find some relief and community online with us.”  

                                               —Monterey Bay Aquarium

Glorious “Relax-ocean”

Two young visitors admire the aquarium’s Kelp Forest exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

This morning, my husband and I participated in the first of a series of live, online “medit-ocean”: a 10-minute video treat gazing at Pacific sea nettles, a type of jellyfish that stings. (You can see a photo of the Pacific sea nettles at the bottom of this post.)

A very calm woman’s voice instructed us in deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualizations. I especially liked the part where she instructed us that every time a thought—or a worry or a fear—pops up, just to visualize attaching that thought to one of the undulating sea nettles and then watch it float away.

After 10 minutes I felt refreshed—plus I had an appreciation for and fascination with the Pacific sea nettles after having watched the animals’ graceful tentacles—some long and thin, others flutey and lacy. There will be different animals featured for different meditations, so I’m eager to get to get better acquainted with the sea life!

Be There Now with Live Webcams

If medit-ocean isn’t your thing, there are other great online ways to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium, whether you’re in a Manhattan skyscraper, on the Arizona desert, or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Via webcams and videos found on the Aquarium website  and their Facebook page, you can literally experience the wonders of the ocean no matter where you are.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten live web cameras to choose from, including:

Penguin Cam: Resting, preening, or swimming, these inquisitive African penguins are hoot! They’re fed to make sure they get their daily vitamin, and sometimes by tossing food into the water to stimulate foraging behavior. Watch for underwater acrobatics as the penguins dart and dive to catch their fish.

African penguins on exhibit in the Splash Zone. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea Otter Cam: Be delighted by the antics of our sea otters or mellow out to the hypnotic drifting of our jellies. including playful sea otters (humor is good for your health)

Kelp Forest Cam: Watch fish and small sharks glide through the swaying kelp forest

Sea Jelly Cams: There’s one live camera for the underwater dances of the reddish sea nettles and another for the hypnotic moon jellies that drift like slow-motion dancers.

A flamboyant cuttlefish in the Tentacles exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Shark Cam: You’ll spot sharks, rays, and other fishes as they cruise through the rocky reef. Among the types you’ll see are Sevengill sharks, leopard sharks, spiny dogfish and the elusive Pacific angel shark. The Aquarium’s 90-foot-long hourglass shape gives big sharks plenty of room to glide and turn. Watch carefully and you might see big skates and bat rays pass by the window!

Coral Reef Cam: This Baja coral-reef community teems with colorful tropical fish, including the Cortez wrasse, scrawled filefish, and Cortez angelfish. In the wild, coral reefs are among the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth.

A cluster of strawberry anemones. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

This is how I’m getting my infusion of the miraculous animals and sea plants in the oceanic ecosystems until I can travel again. When it’s safe after the pandemic, Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the first places I hope to head.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels to California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time 

Though sea nettles are jellyfish with a sting, their flowy motions are perfect for a tranquil meditation. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC

On my most recent visit to Washington, D.C., I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in spring. Regal and inspirational, the likeness of this great civil rights leader gazes out over the waters of Tidal Basin. Sculpted by Chinese master artist Lei Yixin, the memorial is particularly gorgeous when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Cherry blossoms decorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cherry blossoms decorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who became a notable figure during the U.S. civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

A message of nonviolence

Dr. King is the first African-American honored with a memorial on the National Mall. He played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens, and he influenced the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 because he preached and practiced a nonviolent philosophy striving for freedom, justice, and equality

The granite face of Dr. King is resolute, and his arms are crossed as if to say, “I am here to defend the civil rights of African-Americans and all other disenfranchised folks. I will not yield until all men and women and children have equal rights, regardless of race, gender/gender identity, ethnicity, religious belief, or political affiliation.”

There are quotes by Dr. King carved upon a wall at the back of the monument. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There are quotes by Dr. King carved upon a wall at the back of the monument. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At least that’s what I heard him say as I stood looking up at the towering statue. My visit to the memorial was particularly meaningful because I remember the day Dr. King was assassinated—it was my brother’s birthday—and my family watched the funeral procession on TV a few days later. Also, I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and in the early 1970s there was a lot of racial tension leading up to school busing to desegregate the public schools. I was shocked when I heard that the Klan was staging rallies; naively I had assumed the days of the KKK were long gone.

Words that changed America

On a sunny morning during the Cherry Blossom Festival, the monument was buzzing with people from all over the world, speaking numerous languages. I watched as a young Muslim woman had her photo taken in front of Dr. King’s statue. Drummers from the Boulder Philharmonic—who were in D.C. as honorees of the 2017 SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras—played near the monument, and their African-style drumming resounded across the Tidal Basin.

"Out of the mountain of despair." ©Laurel Kallenbach

“Out of the mountain of despair.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

On the massive stone behind Dr. King is inscribed “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” a line from his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

And behind that is a granite mountain split in half, which some people say represents Stone Mountain in Georgia, the site of a Civil War memorial carved into the side of the mountain. It depicts Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Stone Mountain is also the place where the Ku Klux Klan was re-founded in 1915. In addition, I personally think the bisected mountain represents the monolithic block of racism that the Civil Rights Movement cleft in two.

Visitors pored over the quotes from Dr. King's speeches about freedom. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors pored over the quotes from Dr. King’s speeches about freedom. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A wall behind the monument is inscribed with words from Dr. King’s speeches over the years, including a famous line that I find so inspiring: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

I also loved King’s hope-filled statement, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (You can learn more about the quotes at the memorial on the National Park Service website.)

The struggle for civil rights for all people will continue, and thankfully the wisdom and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. will encourage and empower people forever. Having a monument to commemorate one of our most courageous and tireless heroes is a powerful reminder of the conflicts of the past—along with the work that must continue into the future.

Injustice anywhere ©Laurel Kallenbach

In this 1963 quote, King addressed the need to eliminate injustice. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, and it is open free of charge. The memorial is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and West Basin Drive SW in Washington, D.C. Parking is limited near the memorial. The nearest metro stop is Smithsonian.

Originally posted: April 3, 2017

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

 

Earthships: Recycled Houses Made of Dirt

Just 15 minutes from Taos is the world’s Earthship headquarters—and my New Mexico trip wouldn’t be complete without a quick look at these odd, but imminently practical, houses.

A unique and eco friendly earthship near Taos, New Mexico © Laurel Kallenbach

A unique and eco friendly earthship near Taos, New Mexico © Laurel Kallenbach

What’s an Earthship? It’s an ultra-sustainable home built from recycled tires, aluminum cans and bottles packed with dirt, then plastered over with natural mud.

That’s right: no brick and mortar, no wooden studs. Just junk and soil.

In fact, one of these buildings diverts 500 to 5,000 tires away from the landfill.

Because Earthships are banked into the earth—with a southern exposure for maximum sunlight—they’re extremely energy efficient. Their earthen properties keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.

A peek at what's inside the walls of an earthship © Laurel Kallenbach

A peek at what’s inside the walls of an earthship: old tires, beer cans, and mud. © Laurel Kallenbach

Earthships are designed with all the rooms open along a corridor with a huge bank of windows. This way, natural daylight eliminates the need for electrical lighting as long as the sun shines.

A lot of these New-Age structures on the sage- and rabbitbrush-covered land around Taos use solar panels or small wind turbines to create electricity from renewable resources.

There must be almost 50 Earthships dotting the northern New Mexico landscape with its dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountain backdrop. Clearly, this form of architecture is here to stay.

Water Harvesting

New Mexico is dry land, so another advantage to Earthships is that their roofs catch water from rain and snow melt. The water is then filtered and used for drinking or bathing. After you take a shower, wash the dishes or do the laundry, the used water is recycled, filtered again, and pumped to gardens. (Used water is called graywater.)

I think Earthships are pretty nifty—and rather unconventionally beautiful—inventions, although I’m a bit skeptical about the used tires outgasing fumes into the air. However, because they’re surrounded by thick layers of dirt and mud, I suppose the earth absorbs the toxins.

Here you can see the bottoms of glass bottles embedded into an earthship in a decorative pattern © Laurel Kallenbach.

Here you can see the bottoms of glass bottles embedded into an earthship in a decorative pattern © Laurel Kallenbach.

Still, to many people, Earthships look like houses on Mars. Over breakfast at our B&B, La Posada de Taos, a woman described them as “weird, but fascinating.”

“They’re actually built into the dirt!” the woman added with a shudder. I suppose Earthships are an acquired taste.

Curious? If you’re in Taos, slap on some sunscreen and stop by the Earthship Visitor’s Center (located on U.S. Highway 64, west of Taos.) At the Visitor’s Center, you’ll see displays that explain the details of Earthship technology.  You can also choose between a self-guided visit through the center ($8 per person) or a guided tour through the center and several of the area’s demo homes ($15 per person).

You can also rent an Earthship (a room or the whole house) by the night or week.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted: September 2008

Updated: August 2019

Santa Fe Casita: A Southwestern Eco-Retreat

Few cities capture the essence of a region like Santa Fe. This 500-plus-year-old small city displays its history, multiculturalism and artistic flair boldly, making it a thrilling destination year-round.

The living room in Casa Juniper has a lovely wood-burning fireplace. Photo courtesy Hacienda Nicholas

When you stroll the streets of Santa Fe, you absolutely know you’re in northern New Mexico. The sweet, piney smell of burning juniper fills the air; people dress in clothing influenced by Navajo and Pueblo tribal patterns. You encounter public art everywhere. And most unique to this part of the world: the buildings are adobe—an architectural style literally built from the land because adobe is a mixture of earth, clay and straw molded into bricks and dried in the desert sun.

Santa Fe has a number of fabulous hotels, but during our 2011 stay, my husband and I discovered an outstanding option: a casita, or “little house.” Casa Juniper is part of the Alexander’s Inn Vacation Rentals—associated with two delightful eco-friendly B&Bs: the Madeleine Inn and Hacienda Nicholas.

[2019 update: Casa Juniper is no longer available, but Hacienda Nicholas does offer a comparable rental called La Casita. In addition, the Nicholas Suite in the main B&B has a similar feel to the place we stayed at in 2011.]

Staying in a casita is such a great way to go in Santa Fe. We were about eight blocks from the central Plaza—a little farther than the pricey hotels—but we had a large, 100-year-old adobe home with a wood-burning horno fireplace and banks of panoramic windows all to ourselves. It was our home away from home.

The wood and windows at Casa Juniper increase its Santa Fe flavor.

We learned the benefits of having a spacious casita our very first day. An early November storm blew through the area, which made walking around town daunting. So, Ken and I bought some groceries at the Whole Foods and hunkered down at Casa Juniper. While the wind howled outside, we lit a fire and sipped fair-trade coffee and organic tea that was stocked in the casita’s fully equipped kitchen.

Sheltering from the storm, we felt so lucky we weren’t huddling in a generic hotel. Instead, we fully experienced Santa Fe’s aura without stepping into the frozen rain. Inside the sturdy adobe walls, we felt safe. And because our casita had a gorgeous living room, we invited friends to join us. Amid Southwestern rugs on the saltillo-tile floors, wood beamed ceiling, and art from native and New Mexican traditions, we sat out the storm in style and comfort. Best of all, we felt like locals.

Queen bedroom at eco-friendly Casa Juniper

Fortunately, the Southwestern sun came out the next day—and we had plenty of time to explore Canyon Road’s art treasures, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, and the city’s world-famous restaurants. After days of exploring Santa Fe, Ken and I came home to our spacious bedroom—a split-level retreat with closable wooden doors and a queen-sized four-poster bed.

In addition to loving Hacienda Nicholas, we felt good that our accommodations incorporated sustainable, earth-centered policies, such as:

  • Eco-cleaners with no chlorine bleach, dyes or perfumed detergents
  • Towel and linen program that reduces water consumption
  • Energy- and water-efficient appliances
  • Recycling program for glass, paper and plastic
  • Xeriscape gardening (irrigated with graywater) grown with nontoxic fertilizers
  • Stationary that’s printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink
  • Energy-saving compact-fluorescent light bulbs
  • Low-flow faucets, showers and toilets

    Casa Juniper’s bathroom is decorated with Mexican tiles.

  • Soap, shower gel, lotion, shampoo and conditioner dispensers to eliminate the waste of small plastic amenity bottles
  • Filtered water rather than bottled
  • Reusable glass or plastic cups instead of paper cups
  • Rooms painted with no-VOC paints

In addition, the owner of the green Madeleine Inn and Hacienda Nicholas also runs the all-natural Absolute Nirvana spa. Its Indonesian décor is exquisite and relaxing.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted January 2012

Updated September 2019