Kale is My Friend Kale Lovers Shirt

November 29, 2009

You may be familiar with the nutritional value of kale greens. They are a very good source of Vitamins A, B6, C and K, as well as minerals calcium, potassium, copper and manganese. Also included are other B vitamins, iron, and fiber.

You might just love it for its robust flavor.

Whether you use kale leaves in stir fries, kale lentil soup, or kale chips, you can express your love for this versatile, healthy vegetable with this kale-loving shirt.

Kale is My Friend Shirt shirt
Kale is My Friend Shirt by alinaspencil

Vegetarians and vegans are very familiar with kale and use it in many vegetarian and vegan kale recipes. This kale design is green text says, “Kale is my friend.”

Makes a great gift for a vegetarian or vegan, organic farmer or produce lover.

Remember, you can put this design on any size or style of shirt, including tank tops, hooded sweatshirts, or kids shirts. The Zazzle design tool gives you hundreds of options to choose from.

If you need help doing so, please email me:
4alina@alinaspencil.com


Animal Cruelty and Animal Love

November 27, 2009

I chose to spend my Thanksgiving holiday by “volunteering” at the Elephant Nature Park.

I was picked up by a van at my guesthouse and rode with ten other tourists from Canada, the U.S., Brazil and the U.K. for an hour and a half to the sanctuary.

Once there we were given a safety talk and went to watch the elephants from the viewing platform in the main building.

The elephants knew that feeding time was fast approaching, so some of them were already lingering around the building, hoping for early handouts. At 11:30, the klong klong klong of a bamboo being struck signalled food!

We were allowed to feed them by handing them pieces of their food: watermelon, pumpkin, corn, sugar cane, pineapple, and banana. Each elephant has its food parceled and weighed into a basket.

The personalities of the different elephants was amusing. One of them took a piece of food (a wedge of pumpkin, a six-inch length of sugar cane, ten bananas, still in the peel), backed up, put the food in its mouth, and came forward again for more.

Some of them clearly had a favorite food, taking but then dropping the pumpkin immediately but gobbling the bananas. Sweet Jokia, who is blind, stood patiently, mouth agape, trunk curled back, as soon as she smelled the food.

Blind (and hungry!) Jokia patiently waits for feeding time.


Her story, like most of the elephants there, is heartbreaking. While working as a logging elephant before logging became illegal, she gave birth. Her baby rolled down a hill and died. Heartbroken, she lay down and refused to work. Her owner shot one eye out with a slingshot and the other with arrows, forcing her to get up and earn her keep.

Before she was rescued, Jokia's owner shot her in both eyes to try to force her to work when she was depressed.


She was rescued and came to live at the park, where she is free to just be an elephant. No more begging on the street for money from tourists, no more needing to haul tourists on her back for hours every day on trekking tours. She does not have to be forced into a breeding program, producing baby elephants, which are cuter and earn more money than adults. She will not have to do tricks, like the elephant which was rescued from a Sheraton hotel, where its job was to greet hotel guests by trumpeting and leading them around the grounds with her trunk wrapped around their wrists.

Jokia and the other lucky elephants can live with the others, forming small groups, caring for the infants, eating, roaming within the bounds of the park, bathing in the river, and meeting tourists like me, who pay money to help support the enormous costs of running the sanctuary.

Each elephant has a mahout, who is with her or him constantly, to be sure she stays out of trouble, away from the flower garden, far from the crops of the farmers from neighboring villages. No hooks are used with them. Voice command and the occasional firm tap with a hand, plus a lot of love and tolerance, are enough to maintain control.

One of three adorable babies at the park, who steal a lot of attention.


Mae Perm, the first elephant to find freedom at the park, adopted Jokia. Now they travel together and are constant companions. I fed Mae Perm and was immediately struck by her gentleness. Many of the elephants pulled the food from my hand, wrapping their amazingly strong trunks around my hand and squeezing, but she grasped everything with gentle grace and patience.

I think she was also the elephant whose side I was scratching when they went to bathe in the river after lunch. The water was cold. Most of them stood for just a minute or two in the river, while tourists doused them with bucketsful of chilly water.

Scratching Mae Perm after a quick dip in the river. Beside her is blind Jokia, her constant companion since she adopted her.


I had a brush but had put it down to take photos, so I simply used my hands to rub her side. She must have enjoyed it, because she stood there and leaned against me. I was afraid she’d fall over and crush me, but of course, they are in control of themselves and have no reason to harm me.

One of the elephants (I think it was Mae Bua Loi) had a disfigured rear right leg and broken hip due to first a logging accident, then later being forced to be bred with an enormous bull elephant. When he mounted her, he broke her back. She limped along slowly and was probably in a lot of pain.

This elephant had a broken back and hip after being forced to mate. You know how you feel when your leg hurts? Imagine weighing over 2000 pounds and feeling the same way!


I heard from a long-term volunteer there (many come to stay overnight or for several weeks, helping with the care and feeding of the elephants) that her walk had improved considerably over a year’s time, so that was a hopeful thing.

We had to watch a documentary that showed how the elephants are broken in as youths. They are trapped in a cage where they can’t move. Men, and boys who are copying them and learning from them, beat the elephants for three to seven days, until their fighting spirit has broken and they listen and try to obey. Naturally, the elephants put up a mighty fight. The men use nails on the end of bamboo poles to stab the elephants’ feet and inner ears, where they are more sensitive, as well as beat them with sticks.

Since I had been to the park four years earlier and already seen the abuse, I turned away, still crying, so I wouldn’t have to watch. But I could hear the agonized screams of the elephants as they were tortured.

Because logging is now illegal in Thailand, the 3000 domesticated elephants that used to log are forced to work in other ways to bring in money for their owners. But logging is still legal in neighboring countries, such as Burma, where most of the mahouts at the park are from.

Many of the working elephants suffer from landmine explosions, mental and emotional problems, and starvation, in addition to just being forced to work no matter if they feel like it or not.

Not all owners are cruel, but the reality is that it takes a lot of money to feed and properly care for an elephant, and money and jobs are hard to come by. Most do what they can to get by, and when money is scarce, the elephants suffer.

The fact that those elephants that are rescued are able to live a life of peace at the sanctuary is a blessing. I thought it was only appropriate that on the holiday reserved for giving thanks, I reminded myself of some of the ways humans could make a difference for the better in the lives of these animals.

Those lucky elephants (see the two dots on the right?) rescued and now living on the park are free to just be elephants, as they should be.

There is no humane society in Thailand. Domesticated elephants have no laws to protect them and are treated as livestock, abused or starved at will. My massage friend here said she often has called the police in Chiang Mai, asking what can be done to stop the begging elephants she sees pass the shop every night. They swear at her and tell her to mind her own business.

So my Thanksgiving Day was full of sadness and joy, despair and hope, cruelty and love. I gave thanks for the volunteers and people who help the elephants (and the stray dogs and cats that are fed and cared for, fairly well, here.) In the spirit of the holiday, I counted my blessings and was grateful I am in the position to help, with the money I spent to visit the park, as well as by spreading the word and helping to educate and enlighten people.

If you would like more information about the park or any of the elephants, including the three babies–too cute for words!–, visit The Elephant Nature Park Website.

May we all be free to roam, eat, and bathe in the river!


Thai Thanksgiving Feast

November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to you all back home in the U.S.!

It’s a day ahead here in Thailand, so my Thanksgiving was celebrated one day before the U.S.

I went to visit my two Thai massage friends at their shop and took some Pad Thai, Penang Curry, and rice from my favorite vegetarian Restaurant here in Chiang Mai, May Kaidee’s.

They had raw cucumbers, blanched cabbage and oyster mushrooms, sticky rice, nam phrik, (hot chile paste, made by pounding chiles, garlic, salt and sugar and frying it for a short while), and egg omelette.

My kind of Thanksgiving spread--vegetarian, mostly organic, and international


We shared food. The nam phrik on the omelette was really spicy, and they laughed at me as I coughed.

They hadn’t really heard of Thanksgiving. I tried to explain it’s a holiday when people eat turkey and just eat too much.

But I had decided to come to Chiang Mai instead and visit the Elephant Nature Park, to remind me to be thankful, which is in line with the true spirit of the holiday.

(I’ll post the sad and happy details of my visit to the elephant park in a separate post.)

I tried to say, “You are my Thai massage family.” That resulted in a lot of confusion and laughter, and they eventually understood me.

My friend June has a northern accent, so her pronunciation is a little different than so-called standard Thai at times. But her animated personality and boundless energy make for a lively time, whether we are discussing politics, massage techniques, animal cruelty and the complete lack of regulation and protection for animals here, or how to eat sticky rice.

She insisted I eat it the traditional way, balling it in my hand, then dipping it into the curry or nam phrik. When she was a child, she used to roll the rice between two palms to create a dense ball that was then too chewy and hard to eat easily.

Kids will be kids the world over.

It took two of them, plus pantomime, to explain how they used to squeeze the essential oils out of a piece of orange peel onto a ruler. Then they touched the ruler to the palm of their hand and pulled it away repeatedly. Eventually the oils created spider-web-like strands. The mandarin oranges we had for dessert (along with apple bananas) didn’t have enough essential oil in the peel to make it happen, so I had to take their word for it.

I laughed so much, I was getting a headache from my cheek muscles contracting. That, plus a sore face from smiling, crying, and trying not to sob at the elephant park, were not helping.

They gave me a kaffir lime (ma kroot) to sniff the peel, which is supposed to help with headaches.

Kaffir Limes, Ma Kroot in Thai


It did, until my friend said she wanted some of my extra weight, because she is too skinny and runs out of energy. I told her to take all she wants, and that the reason she is so skinny is because all her movements are vibrant, full of energy, and overexcited.

I imitated her, and we both laughed until our stomachs hurt. She told me she never guessed I’d be a mirror to her behavior.

Then I had a headache again.

They fed the stray dogs outside, named Ding Dong, Long, and Kencham, then put out a hot water bottle so Ding Dong can sleep on it.

Ding Dong, an old street dog with mange and aching joints


He is old and gets stiff after sleeping when it’s cold like this. When he gets up, he shrieks in pain for a few minutes, until his joints warm up and stop hurting.

Sometimes they massage him, to relieve the pain.

“Khon jai dee,” I tell them often. Good, kind people.

Long sleeps hidden in the plants fronting the shop, two feet away from the mopeds, cars, and traffic.

My Thanksgiving dinner was an international celebration, and I was happy to spend it with my Thai “massage family” of therapists here in Chiang Mai.

And although my time at the Elephant Nature Park earlier in the day was emotional, it reminded me of many things I am grateful for.

This Thanksgiving was probably the nicest one I’ve ever had. Ironically, there was no turkey, no stuffing, no overeating, no blood-related family, and I wasn’t even in the U.S.

I hope yours is as full of warmth, love, and good eats as mine was. Happy Thanksgiving, and please remember to give thanks.


Gingerbread Couple Photo Card Templates for the Holidays

November 27, 2009

If you are thinking of sending customized photo cards this year for the holidays, I have several designs to choose from.

This one was inspired by some friends of mine, The Bakers:

Gingerbread Photo Card Template (couple) photocard
Gingerbread Photo Card Template (couple) by alinaspencil

This photo card template is green with a gingerbread man and gingerbread woman. Add your own photo and name to the greeting to personalize it.

I’ve set it up so you just type your name in the field provided, and it will replace “The Bakers” with whatever you type.

Click “change” under the image, and you can upload a photo from your computer to replace the sample already there.

Don’t like the color? I have cards in blue, and I will continue to add more colors and designs, so check back later, or drop me an email to request something in particular:
4alina@alinaspencil.com

Find other customizable photo cards at my Zazzle store.


Ai Dtim (That’s Ice Cream to us English Speakers)

November 25, 2009

The other students who were with me for our vegetarian cooking class shrieked when they heard the cha-ching, cha-ching of an ice cream vendor pass the restaurant.

Ai Dtim! You dtim. We all dtim for ai dtim!”

The Thai version of the ice cream truck had passed.

“You have to try it,” they insisted.

“Put rice on top.”

“And make sure you get it in the bread.”

“Bread?” I asked.

“Yeah–ice cream sandwiches…real ice cream sandwiches.”

“Make sure it’s not in the square thing.”

“Yah–it looks like it’s in a keg,” they explained.

“Okay, I’ll look out for it,” I promised.

Yesterday I heard the familiar ringing and spotted a woman wearing a pointy hat, pushing a keg on wheels.

Ai dtim?” I asked.

She opened the lid to show me. Deep down was some white substance. There was a row of small bread slices. This must be the stuff.

“Okay,” I said, and pulled out my camera.

She pointed to the bread and to some plastic cups.

I knew to choose bread.

She leaned over until her entire arm was buried…

A Keg-O-Mystery


and filled the bread with miniature scoopfuls while I snapped pictures.

Fill it up. I don't want an empty bottom.


She drizzled milk from a can on top, then pointed to a plastic container filled with peanuts. I nodded my head.

Just a drizzle'll do ya.


She was going to hand it to me, but I remembered the rice, so I pointed to the other plastic container. She unscrewed the top. Inside was cooked sticky rice.

Okay, I’ll try it…

She put a mini scoop of sticky rice on top, then more canned milk. I had her hold it while I took a photo and paid my 10 baht (30 cents US).

Want a bite?


The first few bites were coconut milk. I loved it. I couldn’t tell if it was only coconut milk, or it had dairy milk in it as well. It went perfectly well with the crunchy peanuts. Surprisingly, the bread made a nice combination.

The sticky rice was strange, along with milk that wasn’t sweetened; it must have been evaporated milk, and not sweetened condensed milk, as I had thought it was.

As I got further down, the ice cream changed from coconut to nearly tasteless vanilla. So there must have been a combination of the two in the keg, and she obviously strategically planned it so the vanilla part went into the bread, soaking the bread as it melted. Very interesting.

Not sure I’d eat it again, if I had to have both flavors. I’d want only the coconut milk kind, with peanuts. If I could have only that kind, I’d definitely eat it again. Better listen for that bell.

When’s the last time you ate something so interesting?


Pad Thai for Breakfast

November 24, 2009

I went back to my favorite, May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant, not wanting to experiment with breakfast. I get that way with recipes sometimes, going back to tried-and-true old favorites rather than trying new things, because when I get too many flubs and just want good food, I want good food!

Good old Pad Thai to the rescue. Not everyone knows the Thai name, but everyone has probably had some: Thai Fried Noodles.

Possibly the most well-known Thai dish, Pad Thai

The chewy rice noodles were perfectly complemented by the cooked-to-perfection vegetables, including carrot, onion, Chinese broccoli (gailaan), won bok and bean sprouts. The baby corn had a fresh flavor, lacking the metallic taste so often found in the canned. Dollops of spicy-creamy peanut sauce dotted the top. I was happy my chopstick abilities are up to snuff, or I would not have been able to pick up the crunchy peanuts that were used as garnish.

At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have to jog home in order to lose the weight I’m gaining from all the delicious food (and some not so delicious, too.)


Taste From Heaven

November 23, 2009

Yesterday I tried a different vegetarian restaurant, Taste From Heaven, which supports the work of the Elephant Nature Park, a haven for elephants rescued from the hands of abusive owners or those who are otherwise unable to properly or adequately feed or care for them. It also helps remove older elephants who are no longer wanted because they are “not valuable.”

Unfortunately, the food was awful, frankly. I had the set lunch menu for 99 baht (about $3 US) and was able to choose one appetizer and one main dish. I chose mushroom fritters, which tasted like salt and chilies and nothing else.

Disappointing Mushroom Fritters

My main dish, eggplant stir fry, had a bit more flavor but was still overpoweringly spicy, despite the fact that I ordered “mild.” The main flavor was the eggplant itself, which was paired with chiles, salt, and soy, plus way too many green onions for even my liking, and I love onions.

Mild Eggplant Stirfry was almost too hot to eat

I might give them another chance, because they have an extensive menu, and I am more than happy to support the Elephant Nature Park, but I was extremely disappointed with that meal.


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