A New Friend

Atticus the Cute! Photo credit: Tejaswi Kasturi

Meet Atticus. He’s a three-month-old kitten who is as cute as can be. To the casual observer, he might seem like any typical kitten, but take a closer look. Atticus is not a typical kitten at all. He is considered a special needs pet.

Just over a month ago, Atticus along with his mother and one of his littermates were trapped in a crawlspace when a fumigator tented a house without removing the cats first. The trapped kittens survived, but their mother died during the fumigation. Four other kittens from the litter were not caught in the tenting, and they are healthy, but feral. A friend recovered the two injured kittens, and took them in for veterinary care. It was then that she was told that his left paw was paralyzed, and would remain so forever.

Upon closer inspection of Atticus’ X-rays, the vets noted that his elbow was broken and fused together possibly before he was born. The other recovered littermate had a similar injury, same prognosis. Yet, it is not an uncommon injury with cats or dogs. Many an adult pet can get similar traumatic injuries. In the old days, it wasn’t heard of to just put the animal down when injuries like this happened. Today however, the common treatment of this type of injury is amputation, and the pets recover, going on to live full and healthy lives.

Before you ask, “Are you sure?” it should be noted that for Atticus, amputation has already been recommended by several different veterinarians. It will not reduce his quality of life at all. More likely, it will make it better. It will reduce strain and muscle fatigue on the shoulders and right front paw. He will not become less agile, as he already does not use the paw.

Atticus won’t be an outdoor cat, but that isn’t a loss. Indoor cats don’t have to worry about cars or coyotes. And honestly, Atticus isn’t interested in going outside anyway. He prefers a warm lap to sit on, or a cozy corner to curl up in. With a child and two other cats to play with, Atticus is never bored.

More, there are many other dogs and cats just like Atticus waiting for the perfect forever home. Unfortunately, many pets are looked over for adoption if they appear any less than perfect. Elder cats and dogs are left to languish in shelters in favor of puppies and kittens. Injured companions are seen as dead weight, even if they are able to fully recover. Yet while they may seem imperfect to the casual observer, they are almost always so full of love.

Since Atticus came into our lives, we have learned that not only is he sweet, but he’s very resourceful. While we did have to spend a little longer showing him how to use a litter box, and how to properly groom his face after eating, he figured out how to do so within the week. He even got a little help from one of our elder pet companions. More, he functions quite well with just the three paws.

I wanted to introduce you to Atticus, because I want to appeal to anyone hoping to adopt a pet. If you wish to welcome a companion into your home, that’s wonderful! Please don’t discount a potential companion because they lack a limb, have a disability or because they’re older animals. Rather, consider this. They will love you, for who you are- a companion. None of us are perfect, but we are unique and wonderful individuals. As we conclude “National Dog Day” today and await the arrival “National Cat Day” in October, I hope you will celebrate all dogs and cats with me.

A Glimpse At “The Happiest Place On Earth”


Mickey Mouse surveys Buena Vista Street, photo: Tejaswi Kasturi

Mickey Mouse surveys Buena Vista Street at DCA.  Photo: Tejaswi Kasturi


Summer is here, which means it’s time to plan your vacation.  For many vacationing people in the US, this means traveling to the ‘Happiest Place on Earth,’ Disneyland, or Walt Disney World.

Many will argue that one park is superior to the other, and refuse to give the other a visit.  But what if both parks have their own strengths?  Why should we quarrel?  Why not get the most out of life, and see the awesomeness that lies in both places?

For this piece, I’ve teamed up with Floridian Kelly Verdeckto take a peek at what gives Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom their own unique sparkle.  Both parks have their merits, and if you’re an avid Disney fan, perhaps this will psych you up for a day at the park.


Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and SoCal at a Glance


Disneyland opened its doors in July 1955.  Walt was inspired by visits to places like Fairyland in Oakland, California, and Republic of Children in Argentina. He began drawing up plans for the park in the late 1940s.   It is said that Walt Disney wanted to create a place that lookedlike ‘nothing else in the world.’ While smaller than its WDW counterpart, Disneyland features 58 attractions.

Walt spent plenty of time on the grounds with his family, even keeping an apartment above the fire station on Main Street.  A light still shines out from a window from his apartment, signifying Walt’s presence on the premises.  More, stars like Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Pixar’s John Lasseter all got their start at Disneyland.  If you want to journey to a place where the magic of Disney began, this is the place to start.

Disney California Adventure opened its doors to the public in 2001, and expanded from 2007-2012.   As you stroll through the gates, you are treated to a re-creationof 1920s-era Burbank and Hollywood, when Walt Disney landed in California with his brother, Roy.  Like Disneyland, Disney California Adventure features eight different themed ‘lands’ in its 72-acre park.  This includes Paradise Pier, a space that pays homage to boardwalks and piers that dot California’s coastline, and Cars Land, a 12-acre space devoted to the Cars franchise.   I highly recommend a visit to DCA, particularly if you’re averse to crowds, or you have small children that don’t care for long lines.

If you desire a little bit of retail therapy after the parks close, or simply wish to catch a show and a meal, head over to the shops and eateries at Downtown Disney, or duck into Disney’s Grand Californian hotel, which feature several restaurants of their own.   For a non-Disney day all-together, consider taking advantage of the many things the Greater Los Angeles area has to offer.   California has 840 miles of glorious coastline, and some of the best beaches are only 30 minutes away.  Hollywood is 40 minutes away; Griffith Park (where Walt Disney was inspired to create “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” and home of the Hollywood sign) is just a few miles eastward.  Fantastic history museums, art museums, amphitheaters and concert halls all beckon to resident and tourist alike.  Observatories and mountains invite you to escape to the land beyond.  Last, but not least, travelers are invited to immerse themselves in the rich, diverse culture that a metropolis of eighteen million people has to offer.  You will need a car, but the world is your playground when you have wheels in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.


Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.  Photo: Kelly Verdeck

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Photo: Kelly Verdeck

Walt Disney World and Orlando at a Glance

While Anaheim has the history of being first and the gift of Walt’s personal touch, The Florida Project, as WDW was known when it was just a glimmer in Walt’s eye, has what Walt couldn’t get in California: space.  Where Disneyland is surrounded by an asphalt jungle of hotels and souvenir shops, Walt Disney World is practically a country unto itself, a San-Francisco-sized nature preserve that happens to contain four of the world’s most-visited theme parks.


After the Magic Kingdom, in1982 came EPCOT Center (now just Epcot), which is a sort of permanent World’s Fair: half the park is dedicated to corporate-sponsored showcases of mankind’s technological achievement, and the other half is an assortment of pavilions intended to give a taste of the culture of the eleven countries they represent–perhaps the only place on Earth where one can walk from Mexico to the United Kingdom and pass through Japan and France along the way.  The Disney/MGM Studios Park followed Epcot in 1989, now simply called Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park opened in 1998.  Hollywood Studios is a mix of thrill rides and movie magic, while Disney’s Animal Kingdom is essentially a zoo, with added Disney-style rides and attractions.  The 40 square miles of Walt Disney World also contain two water parks, two championship golf courses plus a couple mini-golf courses, lots of hotels, a campground, and the Downtown Disney complex of shops, restaurants and entertainment.  Each of WDW’s four parks has their must-see attractions and their filler, and volumes can be and have been written about each.

While Disney World strives to be an all-encompassing vacation destination, the Orlando area offers plenty outside Disney’s gates. In addition to the various world-class theme parks, there is International Drive (known to locals as I-Drive), a thoroughfare lined with tourist attractions, amusement parks, shops and outlet malls. Further afield there’s the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center on the east coast and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to the west, each about an hour’s drive from Walt Disney World.  If nature is your thing, you can find it in spades as well, from a variety of Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico beaches, to quiet forest hikes, to natural spring-fed pools and rivers.

Magic Kingdom delight. Photo by Kelly Verdeck.

Magic Kingdom delight.
Photo: Kelly Verdeck.


Getting to the Heart of Magic: Magic Kingdom versus Disneyland

Since they invite the most direct comparison, let us take a closer look at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and the original Disneyland Park.  If you want to experience the magic that Walt Disney imagined in the beginning, these two parks are where it all began.   While Walt died years before Magic Kingdom opened, he still had high aspirations for the planned resort.

The design of Magic Kingdom isn’t much different from Disneyland: Main Street USA leads up to the central Castle, with the themed lands arrayed in the classic spoke-and-hub pattern Disneyland pioneered.  In other words, there’s not much difference navigating the two parks.  There is a good deal of overlap between the attractions at Disneyland and those at the Magic Kingdom, which might lead some to think the parks are somehow carbon copies–but each park has attractions not found at the other, and even the rides which appear at both parks offer an interesting degree of variety.

First time visitors to Disneyland should check out the following unique attractions:

Main Street, USA

  • Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln is a stage show featuring audio-animatronic feature that made its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair.
  • Main Street Cinema plays Disney shorts on six separate screens.


  • Big Thunder Ranch features a petting zoo, and walk through cabins and a restaurant.  Two turkeys that were given the presidential pardon in 2008 make this place their home. You might even get to meet Woody from Toy Story here.
  • Golden Horseshoe Saloon has a restaurant and variety show.  This was Walt’s favorite spot in all of Disneyland.
  • Sailing Ship Columbia is a full-scale replica of Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe.  You can stand on deck, listen to the tale as you sail the Rivers of America, or head below to tour the nautical museum.


  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is one of the original 1955 rides.  It is based on the story, “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame, which was adapted in the Disney feature, “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.”
  • Alice in Wonderland is a dark ride based on Disney’s classic animated feature from 1951.
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds debuted in 1959.  It’s the very first tubular steel coaster, which means that if you’re a thrill seeking steel coaster fan, riding the Matterhorn Bobsleds is a must.


  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage was originally Submarine Voyage, a ride that opened in 1959.   Marlin and Dory search once again for Nemo, who is lost.  This ride is currently undergoing refurbishment and will open again in September.

First time visitors to Magic Kingdom should check out the following unique attractions:


Magic Carpets of Aladdin is a spinner ride similar to Dumbo the Flying Elephant. 


Space Mountain photo: Kelly Verdeck

Space Mountain photo: Kelly Verdeck


  • Carousel of Progress offers a dated but still fascinating rotating theater featuring an audio-animatronic family progressing through generations of technological progress.  It shows its age, but it still has a magic—and good luck getting the theme song out of your head!
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor is a comic show featuring the characters from the Pixar film.  Kids may get a kick out of it, but the jokes tend to be real groaners for adults.
  • Stitch’s Great Escape may quite possibly too intense for kids. Featuring the adorable blue alien, this attraction began its life as the more frightening ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, and it still shows.
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover offers a sedate and serene elevated journey through Tomorrowland, including a darkened turn around the perimeter of Space Mountain.  It’s a great way to cool off and relax for some quieter moments.

Liberty Square

  • The Hall of Presidents This is Magic Kingdom’s answer to Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. An animatronic show, the Hall of Presidents showcases lifelike figures of all 44 American Presidents and is updated with each new officeholder.

Fantasyland/Storybook Circus

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is Magic Kingdom’s newest feature in the recently expanded Fantasyland.  This summer try out this thrilling dark ride, but don’t forget your fastpass.
  • Barnstormer Recently renovated, the Barnstormer is a short roller coaster suitable for kids as well as adults.


After you’ve had the chance to visit these unique attractions, why not compare and contrast some of the others?  You might find distinct differences between rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain. Try out the more docile version of Snow White’s Scary Adventures (Magic Kingdom’s was too scary to remain open), or watch the Country Bear Jamboree, which now only runs at Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disney.  International travelers may spot differences from their overseas counterparts as well.


The lobby of Disney's Grand Californian Resort.  Photo: Tejaswi Kasturi

The lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Resort.
Photo: Tejaswi Kasturi

Tips for travel


If you’ve made the decision to take yourself or your family to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, we recommend a few things to make your visit a fun one.

  • Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World experience high traffic in the summer months, so be prepared.  If you have young children, consider bringing (or renting) a stroller, because there is a lot of walking, and a lot of waiting during high season.  Wear comfortable shoes, because blisters on your feet in the “Happiest Place” suck.
  • Consider downloading an app for your phone to monitor wait times on rides.  There are several decent apps for Disneyland and DCA available for Android and iPhone users. The best part is that they are free.
  • If there’s a ride that you really want to ride with a long wait time at Disneyland and DCA, consider using the Fastpass option.  For more info, read about it here.   Disney World has recently launched their Fastpass+ program, which allows for advance reservations on some rides.
  • Keep hydrated.  If you have young children, sippy cups can be brought into the parks.  Adults can request a cup for water at any of the restaurants, and should you have your own bottle, there are refilling stations throughout both parks.
  • Consider layers. Orlando tends to be very humid, and subject to sudden afternoon thunderstorms in the summer months.   Anaheim is very dry, and can get very cool at night.  If you aren’t used to either climate, you can find yourself running very hot or very cold by the end of the day.   If you don’t like carrying a jacket with you, lockers are available for rental in all parks.  That extra jacket may also prove useful in the event you get soaked on rides like Splash Mountain.
  • If you’re averse to crowds, consider ducking in for a show.  Or if you have a Park Hopper pass, head over to a less crowded park for a while.  Need downtime for a nap or refresher at a hotel?  Get a stamp on the way out for easy re-entry later in the day.


Speaking of hotels, is it worth it to complete the Disney experience by staying at a hotel?

At Walt Disney World, Disney guests are highly encouraged to spend their entire visit on-property, and for the most part they make it worthwhile to do so.  For efficient access to Magic Kingdom, consider staying at the Contemporary Resort, which is within easy walking distance of the park.  Grand Floridian or Polynesian resort hotels have dedicated monorail stops, which will take you to the Magic Kingdom.  Otherwise, prepare to drive to the Transportation and Ticket Center and catch the monorail or ferry to the Magic Kingdom.   The latter will take approximately 30 minutes.

While this may seem arduous, the intention was to enhance the separation of the park from the “real” world.  That’s fine—for the first visit or two.  After that it can definitely feel like a chore.  The silver lining is that the other Walt Disney World parks are much simpler to reach by car.

Meanwhile at Disneyland, there are three official Disney hotels to choose from.  Each hotel features one restaurant with “Character Dining,” resort pools, arcades, shops, and lounges.  Everything here is exquisitely detailed, from the décor to the waffles served at breakfast.  All Disney Resort hotels are within walking distance of parks, Downtown Disney, and the monorail.  While staying there offers a fantastic experience, it isn’t light on the pocketbook.

If you’re looking for a no-frills more affordable place to stay nearby, consider booking a night at one of the designated “Good Neighbor” hotels.  Good Neighbor hotels are near the resort that have partnered with Disneyland to make your stay a good one.

In conclusion, we hope that regardless of which park you will visit that this mini guide was helpful to you.  You can’t go wrong with either coast, but hopefully we’ve helped to show that they most definitely are not interchangeable.  Now grab your mouse ears and go!

Sleeping Beauty Castle Photo by Tejaswi Kasturi.

Sleeping Beauty Castle
Photo by Tejaswi Kasturi.

Kelly was born and raised in Central Florida, on the doorstep of Walt Disney World, and has spent a fair amount of time there over the years.  In fact, he considers himself something of a geek when it comes to WDW, fascinated by the design and history of the place.  He finally made it out to the left coast to check out Disneyland earlier this year.  His favorite rides are the Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror. A part-time professional photographer, Kelly’s website is here.

Jill lived in Colorado until moving to California in 2003, but she experienced the magic of Disneyland for the first time years before at Disneyland’s Magic Music Days.  Now a card carrying Disney pass holder, her favorite Disney rides are Space Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, and any ride that makes her daughter smile.  She anticipates a multi day excursion to Walt Disney World in the not too distant future.  Jill maintains PianissAmma.

Photo credits:  Kelly Verdeck, and Tejaswi Kasturi.


It’s 2014, and You Want to Learn Piano: An FAQ

It’s January, which means that many take up new life goals and resolutions for the year.  Perhaps you’re thinking about learning an instrument, or having your child take up music lessons in the spirit of enrichment.

Congratulations, and welcome to the world of music!  We music teachers are more than happy to show you the ropes.   Every teacher has their own set of rules when it comes to lesson structure, repertoire, and at home practice. While you may find differing opinions on technique and artistry in music, many of us agree on the following questions asked by prospective students and parents.   Here’s an FAQ I’ve compiled after 22 years of teaching piano.

Q: Can my child or I learn music?   

A: If you have the desire to learn and the time to practice, you can learn music.

Q: What ages do you teach?   Do you teach adults?

A: I teach students ages 4 to 104.  Not all teachers work with such a broad age range.  It is never too late to start learning, or to return to music.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Q: Why won’t you teach my 3 year old? 

A:  While there are methods suitable for preschoolers, those methods are geared toward small group sessions. I generally teach one on one for regular lessons, and group sessions only for master class work.  I would highly recommend Kindermusik if you are eager to start your child prior to age 4.

Q: How long and how often are lessons? 

A:  Lessons generally start at 30 minutes, and I recommend no less than once a week for a lesson.  My lesson lengths are 30, 45, 60 and 90 minutes.

Q: Do I need an instrument? 

A:  As a piano student, an instrument would be most helpful.  Not just any instrument, however.   Ideally, the instrument should have a full compliment of keys (88 keys).  Acoustic pianos are the best, provided they are in good shape and tuned regularly.  Keyboards like the Yamaha Clavinova are acceptable, particularly if you can get one with piano weight keys.  Keep in mind that the feel and sound will differ from that of an acoustic piano.

Yes, instruments are expensive, but think of this as an investment.  If it’s too costly to buy, consider renting.  Or keep your eyes peeled for estate sales.  Just make sure to keep your instrument properly maintained when you do get one.

Q: What kind of materials do I need? 

A: In addition to your own piano or keyboard, you will need a notebook, music, a pencil, and a metronome.

Notebooks are useful for not just showing your weekly assignment list.  They are also useful for writing down any questions you have, writing compositions (many musical notebooks include staff lines for just that), jotting down exercises for home practice, and just keeping track of specifics on your literature.   Which leads to…

…Literature is a good thing to have for your music lessons.  Whether you or your child are in method books learning the basics of music, or you’re working on a piano concerto, you’re going to need some music.  Regardless of whether you want to work on Brahms or Justin Bieber, having the written score will help.  Especially in my studio, where musical literacy is important.

All aspiring pianists and students need a pencil for making annotations in the music.  Sometimes, the notes are for fingering, sometimes, just a gentle reminder that you’re playing an F, not an E.  Not to mention, if you need to compose a short song for your next lesson, that pencil will come in very handy.

Finally, you need a metronome.   The metronome is a musician’s best friend.  You can download a metronome app for your iPhone, or you can buy a little box that takes batteries.  The metronome will keep time and tempo (speed, or BPM) for you while you’re practicing your scales, exercises, and songs. It’s the type of best friend that keeps your rhythm in check whether you want it to or not.   During the early stages, you may wish to throw your metronome across the room.  Don’t.  It’s merely helping you keep precise time.   Every musician worth their salt keeps a metronome or two.  I have four, if you count the app on my phone.

Q: Can I just drop my child off at their lesson and come back later?

A:  You can, that is perfectly fine.  However, I have found that if a parent is serious about their kid learning piano, the kids really benefit with a parent in the room.  Many parents are more than welcome to stay at lessons.  Many parents do.  The younger the student, the more helpful it is to have a parent there.  This is particularly true if the child is studying Suzuki, one of many piano methods available.

Q: What kind of music will my child or I work on? 

A:  For the beginner student, it will depend on their learning style.  Some students are avid readers, while others might be more aurally inclined, or kinesthetic learners.  There are many different methods to choose from.   Each student is unique.

For students that are out of the method books, the sky is the limit on what kind of music there is to study.  Speaking for myself, I allow many different styles. I only ask that you are willing to learn, and that you are also willing to work on technique to make those songs more enjoyable.

It’s important to note that some teachers do specialize in classical or pop only, so this is a very good question to ask while interviewing prospective teachers.

Q: How often do I need to practice?

A: You should practice every day that you breathe.   Keep in mind that music is a language. You read, you write, sing, play.  Not all practice is done at the piano.  You might find yourself working on listening assignments with your iPod, or trying fingering out on your steering wheel while sitting at a red light.  You may have music theory assignments, which can be done away from the piano.  Perhaps you have a piece that you’re learning to sing as well as play.  Singing can happen anywhere, anytime.   You practice every day that you breathe, because music is part of everyday life.

Our Daily (Holiday) Bread

About two years ago, my sister in law brought her sourdough starter with her to Los Angeles.  She was kind enough to offer me some of her dough, which I cultivated and made dozens of loaves of bread from.   Baking bread is a specialty of mine, but baking sourdough was new to me.  I was excited, because I wanted a chance to make vegan breads all on my own.  Sourdough starter utilizes three ingredients: water, flour, and wild yeast.

On my baking journey, I bought lots of bread books, browsed many a website, and found that many sourdoughs incorporate butter, eggs, milk, and not so wild yeast.  I eventually found dairy and egg free recipes, but I have yet to get my wild yeast to work completely on its own.  It’s okay though, because I have cultivated some fabulous bread anyway.

Today, I give two recipes for your enjoyment.  Two loaves in one oven.  One savory, the other just slightly sweet.  The savory goes well with olive oil and vinegar, or butter, if you like.  The sweet?  Have it with almond butter.  It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and great for breakfast too!

Sourdough Galore

Cinnamon sourdough.  Picture by Tejaswi Kasturi

Cinnamon sourdough. Picture by Tejaswi Kasturi

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Eat Your Veggies!

Spiced carrots

Photo by Tejaswi Kasturi.

When I was a child, I always looked forward to Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house.  Sunday dinners were always worthy of the good plates, especially after a good sermon at church.

It wasn’t uncommon for some of those Sunday dinners to include a roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions.  All cooked together in a Dutch oven.

When I decided to become a vegetarian, I realized that I missed that idea of a one-pot meal.  Sure, I use my slow cooker to make stews all the time.  But to have root vegetables baked with a broth?  I had yet to find a recipe that brought those veggies to life.   So one Thanksgiving about ten years ago, I decided to make my own.   This works well as a side dish.

Spiced Carrots

  • 2 Cups carrots peeled and quartered lengthwise
  • 3 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1 Teaspoon Whole Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 Teaspoon fresh chopped basil
  • 1 Teaspoon fresh oregano leaves


  • 1/8 Cup orange juice
  • 1/8 Cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon honey (Agave nectar may be substituted)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Pinch of saffron strands
  • 1 Dash of crushed red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spread carrots evenly in an 8-inch baking dish.   Sprinkle cloves, thyme, basil and oregano on carrots.    Take your cinnamon sticks, and break them in half lengthwise.  Add cinnamon sticks to carrots, interspersed throughout the dish.   Drizzle marinade over carrots.

Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 1 hour.   Garnish with sprigs of thyme.   Serves 4.

Note:  If you don’t have fresh herbs in the house, use dry herbs instead.  Just be sure to reduce.  Experts recommend using a third of the suggested fresh amount.   1 Teaspoon of fresh chopped basil would translate to 1/3 teaspoon of dried basil.

Bon appetit.