Learning From the Pastoralists of Our Time

 


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“Pastoralists have a rich understanding of the environments that they manage and have developed sophisticated systems of resource management that conserve biodiversity. “

Where does this “rich understanding” derive from?

From what I have perceived it is rooted in the life-systems of these people. Their entire existence is reliant on the earth around them and synchronically the earth is reliant on them—the steward not only takes but also gives.

It wasn’t all that long ago, when humanity knew that their survival was earth dependent and somehow in the mix of modernization we have lost in a big way our daily connection with the earths provisions which we cannot live without…we have forgotten to reconcile our taking of resources with a bountiful giving back in exchange. 

The cultural shifts throughout time have started as bands, to tribes, to chiefdoms and then to states.

The most interesting thing is that with each phase within the cultural shifts inequalities began to take shape, as well as, a disregard for the question of cause and effect on our environment. As humanity has progressed into the whale of technological advances we have pulled ourselves further and further away from the organic relationship between humanity and earth. Bands began as truly egalitarian from the start, then as humans transgressed into tribes the inequalities between age and gender began to slowly take shape, then as we moved to chiefdoms great class divisions formed causing a greater gap between poor and rich because of centralized and hereditary leadership… lastly states (I am not referring to the states in the U.S. this in reference to states as a category of human advancements) exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, inequalities were pronounced in many forms and farming began to slowly burst into irrigational settings alongside the industrial revolutions which brought forth the use of grand scale machinery, which phenomenally changed our world.

Yes, there are pros and cons and my goodness would my day ever be different without our technology but I believe it is now time to reflect on what we have and how we can use our technology, our understanding of the past and foreseeable inferences of our future and ask ourselves, “what can I do to bring myself back to a purist perspective next to natures side as a steward within the context of my modern day life?”

This is why the pastoralist communities that are still actively living in sync with nature can be an active and current example of preservation.

So… what exactly is a pastoralist? You might ask?

Pastoralists are tribes that still practice their form of sustainability in our world today as active communities that live off of and tend to the land in their local regions. They generally focus their resources on tending to livestock, animal husbandry, and do not usually live fully sedentary lifestyles unless they are forced by governmental restrictions on the land.

Some current examples of active pastoral tribes that still practice pastoralism today are that of the Mursi, Nuer, Ariaal, Yanomami and Ngandu tribes from the continent of Africa. They are known for their pastoralism and as expert horticulturists.

Pastoralists use wild plants such as fruits, seeds, tubers, barks, gums and leaves for consumption and also for medicinal purposes.  An example of this is in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where there are approximately 1,280 plant species that are recognized and used for holistic medicinal means.

In dominating western societies there has been a growing popularity of herbal remedies. This trend is usually for good reason, as more and more people are growing disillusioned with the modern health system. Unfortunately, this has simultaneously resulted in growth of a demand from the global market for ancient herbs from around the world. There is a commercialization that is taking place in regards to holistic remedies and once sacred pastoralist practices are now being exploited and recognized by others outside of the pastoral community which leads to increased gathering of certain plants and have led to a near point of extinction for some. The pastoralists stoutly practice moderation and fully recognize the flow of healthy give and take, recognizing that our resources are not for the raping and consumption of humans in order to gain and use, it is for the taking for pure life-line reasons of nutrition and for the giving for pure reasons of maintaining that nutritional source.  They are not in it for the money, for the business, for the capital gains… our worlds are starkly contrasted and WE have MUCH TO LEARN. Our dry bones need to wake up!

We have much to learn from the practice of pastoralism. The exasperation of certain plant resources is only one small example of how our earth is being exploited in order to gain power and money and to feed the material trends of societies… there are many other examples of how our un-attachment with nature leads us to use up our natural resources without truly taking into account the repercussions of our present and most importantly our future generations. I want to create a heritage for my offsprings. I want to provide for them now and also for their future…don’t you?

Let us learn from the mentality of these people…

When the pastoralists find new areas for their livestock to graze or when using current areas they take into consideration how their livestock will affect the environment, this is an essential common understanding in regards to their future livelihood; something that our modern day farmers should pay attention to. Not only do the pastoralists find resources for the “now” but they also keep in mind all of the “tomorrows” that are ahead. When the plant biota being grazed are in the phase of seed production they take this into consideration and mobilize or strategize their grazing patterns in order to not harm the reproduction life cycles of the plants.

They are very sensitive about over-grazing, they believe in the practice of “just enough” Depletion of the land is not even a consideration… alternating their territories in order to graze effectively but without repressing the environment.

This practice equates to bountiful plant life, healthier livestock, and nutrient rich milk; “grass fed” has never been so real as it is within the pastoral livestock! 😉 

Trees are sacred to the pastoralists.  The local trees which the pastoral tribes are familiar with in the drylands that they live provide them with much needed shade, fruit, material for constructive use and for fire fuel.  Pastoralists rarely cut down these trees and rarely plant, however, they create sustainability by taking and making use of the fallen branches, or they practice the act of pollarding trees in which they prune the tops of trees to maintain a trees height, which makes the trees fuller and healthier – making use of the needed resources and at the same time sustaining the life of the tree.

What I want to bring to the table is that pastoralists have keen ecosystems knowledge of their environment and are very capable representatives to tend to sustainability and land management in their region.  When you have a people that rely with the whole being of their lives on the natural resources that surround them, you have a people that are phenomenally connected with nature. When government systems encroach on the land and create boundaries in which they must limit their area to practice pastoralism, not only do these people suffer from such stipulations but the land also suffers from the lack of eco-systems management that the pastoralists know full well how to manage…nothing compares to that of the heart of a people who work with the land, for the land and survive from the land. 

We are so far removed from what it feels like to rely fully on the land in order to live!

There is nothing more intelligent, more wise, more sophisticated, more intellectually bright than recognizing our natural resources and the exploitation of those sacred gifts.  The earth does not have a voice without it’s people.  As a creationist I believe in a true give and take cycle that is meant to exist between humanity and our world.

I have to admit my heart aches when hearing other people of faith that scoff at environmental efforts from their couches and simply digress to saying things like, “We are all just heaven bound anyways, these people are wasting their time…I have my eyes on heaven…and not of earthly things…”

I disagree with this because I believe in living life on earth as it is in heaven, I believe in progressing in that direction, I believe that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free for we are all one”.  It is everyone’s responsibility to give our earth a moment of thought and a lifetime of action.  The earth and all that is within it only knows how to give and give and give.  We humans are the ones bestowed to take, we take and take, yet may we also in return give and give. Balance is key.

Nature is not just here for us, it is not simply a gift to look pretty for our pleasure. I am certainly in awe of the beauty of the earth and my spirit is filled with peace when I am immersed in it. Yet, something to remember is that the earth was not created simply for us to look at and to take from…it goes both ways, I believe that the plan was to work together. It is common sense to realize that our patterns effect everything.

what I want to do right now is hear from you because realistically this is a very long blog post and if you made it this far, my hope is that you will engage with me.  Please share your thoughts on this post topic. Please let me know ways (little or big) in your own life that you can or have incorporated thoughtful give and take stewardship values within your personal or regional eco-system? The trick is how to artfully incorporate this frame of mind and value for our resources into our modern life-styles.  What might we need to personally change, what might we need to add, what simple ways can we simply alter practices within an already formed habit such as composting rather than putting food into a garbage disposal. Simple eco-system valued practices that would not weigh down on our time constrained lives… that right there is a start, right? That is where I am beginning. I could calculate my footprint on the earth and there is much that I should change, let’s begin with steps, sometimes baby steps…to form life-changing, earth revolutionizing habits!

Lastly, it should not simply be the labeled “radicals” that strive to make a difference… if you feel called to take care of people, then remember that caring for our planet is part of that equation.  If you feel it is important to provide a happy and healthy life for your family, then remember that nurturing your planet is part of that equation. If you enjoy eating food, remember that tending to nature is part of that equation!! It IS our livelihood… If you love hiking or camping, or outdoor adventures; if you love wildlife and rivers, and scenic explorations, if you love clean air…then remember taking an active role to be the voice for a voiceless earth is part of that equation… If you value quality of life then acting as a steward for our earth is most definetely part of that equation…

For me personally, from my faith stance as a creationist, from that perspective the great artist and creator who formed this beautiful gift of life is part of that equation and to me I am losing myself in whom I was made to be as a beloved human if I do not pay attention to our connection with this planet, because for me that connection calls out to a God who created such magnificence and how could I ever forget that.  I find that key point my most motivating influence within my personal life choices.
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is mankind that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?…You make him to rule over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet…All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” Psalm 8:3-9  …May I honor the works of our creators hands.

Let’s hear from you! …and thank you and love and peace be with you.

(Resources:  Information on pastoralists resourced and reiterated from WISP Policy Bried No. 5
knowledge as the basis for land management ” Barrow, E., Davies, J., Berhe, S., Matiru, V., Mohamed, N., Olenasha, W., Rugadya, M. {Su, Eth, Som}(2007): Pastoralist’s species and ecosystems knowledge
as the basis for land management. IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office. Policy Brief No. 3 (of 5). Nairobi, 4 p.
For further information, including details of how to join the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, please visit the website at: http://www.iucn.org/wisp)

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Out of the Ashes

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Out of the ashes we will rise; with beauty, grace, and life. 

It is the summer of adventure! Every year we dub the summer with that title as if it was a new thought, but as each summer rolls around we valiantly raise our declarative hands into the air and shout with just as much vigor as before, “It is the summer of adventure!”

…And we go. We slim down our schedules, we prioritize our lives, we protect our weekends like vultures and politely ask the rest of the world’s expectations to back off…and we head out to where the wild leads our spirits to a place where we find rest and renewal;  a healing realm which brings oil to our tired gears.

It was a Sunday morning and I turned to my husband in bed and asked him, “What do you have in mind for today?” That question is always the beginning of many adventures in our family. An open ended, “Let’s get outta here!”

Thus a hiking day began to brew. We blasted the morning music, usually Buena Vista Social Club or Karsh Kale on our weekend mornings… I simultaneously shoveled down some breakfast while gathering what we needed and my husband Josh prepared a pack lunch. The house can be left a mess, the dust can mingle, when there are adventures to be had we must go.

When I look back on my life lived, I want to see all of the great things we did, all of the moments we enjoyed, I don’t want to wonder where the time went as I worried about the house…let the dust sit. There is always another day to take care of that and it will always come back.

Off we went to the mountains, to the fresh air, to the pine trees, to the freedom!

It is the exiting of our vehicle and the first glimpse of a trail; the sounds of the birds and the way the sun feels in the great forest that makes me feel like I am home.

This trail was new to us; we began with a walk through a thin spindly forest at the Blue Lake trail head. I looked around and where were my beloved green ferns? My giant trees? My soft earthen moss patches? A desolation of ash still remained in this area so close to the mountain, overpowering the soil, creating silt and fluffy grey ground cover. Porous rocks were everywhere, winter carved waterways, now mostly empty and dry with small creeping springs still seeping through.

Mt. St. Helen’s stood tall above the scene; strong and mighty forced to look down, in his solitary position on the mess that he had made.

Mt. St. Helen’s was named after a British ambassador called Alleyne Fitzherbert, whom was also dubbed “Baron St. Helens”.  However, the mountain was already given a name by the pacific-northwest Native Americans who were living in that area. They referred to the beast as “Louwala-Clough,” or “smoking mountain.”

In 1980, it blew its roof top and covered the age old land with the boiling contents stewing within its cauldron.  The land was scarred and life turned into death in an instant.

We hiked through this dusty mire, oddly admiring the striking contrast of beauty in this barren land; the monochromatic relics with lackluster trees against the blue sky.

Glory is everywhere that we look, if we CHOOSE to have eyes to see it.

We continued forward and I expected this trail of ruins to lead me to the beckoning forest which oddly stood side by side next to the wasteland. Heading north on this trail, when I turned my eyes towards the east I saw nothing but grey, then looking westward there was only a stream that separated the dessert of dull-tones from the live presentation of forest land,  thick and old and vibrant.

How is this possible? I was stunned by the placement of everything. How did the roar of St. Helen’s cover the land for miles with the bursting of the belly of the smoking mountain?… Yet, somehow this old growth wild-wood thriving across the stream was untouched.

Side by side there stood a tangible, visual, distinct example of death and life in a panoramic view unfolding right before our eyes. 

We gravitated to the stream, to the life-side of the forest.  We drew ourselves nearer to the cord-veins of the water and there we discovered heaps and heaps of huckleberries ripe and sweet, all along the water-line.

blueberriesHuckleberries love to be near the water, their taste is sweeter and the berries are filled with juice when they are next to it.

“Isn’t this early for huckleberries, this high up in the mountains?” I asked Josh.   “That is what I was thinking!” He replied. We have always picked them in August and September, so it seemed odd to have such a plentiful display of fresh berries already ripe for the taking.

Our hiking came to a halt, a long halt, as we picked and filled our bellies with the first wild berries of the season. After a while though I began to feel anxious, I wanted so badly to get into the thick of the woods.

Onward we traveled…until we came to a beautiful lake.  Purely haunting, it gave off a sense of mystical mystery.  It symbolized to me a sector of hallowed ground between the two visual worlds of death and life.

misty lake

If I kept my eyes steady on the lake and the mirror images of trees reflecting on the water I felt the kind of magic that I feel when I get out into the wilderness…but whenever I would gaze back into the barren mess, I began to grow tired of it and I wanted to travel away from it all together.

I suddenly remembered that I forgot to put our forest pass on the rear view mirror, panicking because I did not want to pay a fine for parking there without it,  I told Josh that I HAD to run back to the car or we might have a hefty fee to pay.

So I ran, I ran 1.5 miles down the path of sooty nothingness, dust rising all around me, Moonshine the dog leaping with me. I got to the car, gulped down some water, shared some with Moonie, and rectified the situation. Then with a breath in and back out again, I jogged the 1.5 miles through and through until I reached the lake.  The serene silence was so loud, my kids and my husband were gone! The quietness was eerie, the volcanic wasteland hovering behind me, the tranquility of the lake before me… I was alone, I wanted my family. I wanted to find my forest thick and free…

I hollered for their names… no answer.  Again and again and again…still no answer. I sat down on a rock and figured they would return.

After a while I heard the giggles of children and the clacking of rocks as they climbed up into view; they waved at me to come.

They had found a stream full of clay and were building a dam to create a pool. I sat down and ate lunch on a rock, reviving myself from all the running.

I finished eating. They began eating. We talked about fish, dams, spiders, squirrels, we talked about the mountain and at one point our dog entangled his arm inside of his collar and wobbled around on 3-legs, which brought us all to the ground with laughter.

The kids would have kept playing in the mud all day, covering their bodies with the grey composted ash…but I had to get away and into the forest, and during my run to the car I spotted an off trail that took you up into the woods. That’s the ticket!

So we went… I felt so much relief with each step deeper into the web of the forest. I could breathe in and taste and smell the earth around me. More huckleberries were growing up there, but very tart and had flavors of the forest that danced in your mouth, far different than the water-side ones. We found enormous conks growing on trees, we let them be, they have been working hard on their growth.

Then as we turned the corner of the trail, my husband rushed forward and reached his long arms around the girth of an ancient tree trunk, his arms could hardly wrap around even a 3rd of her circumference. I felt teary at the sight of this big man warm against the tree like a little boy.

I then had to have my moment with her, that wise old tree… and when I did I felt the sun’s heat on her bark, and I held onto her sides as much as my arms could grasp…it took a while before I could let go.

My daughter and I said thank you to our creator for such a tree as this… and I kissed it before we carried on with our hike.

My heart ached, my throat was all bunched up feeling like I needed to just sit down and sob… Cry because I am so thankful that I could see a beautiful beast of a tree such as this, but also sad at so many that have been lost.

Yet, we use wood to make our homes, we use wood to burn our fires, it is the patterns of give and take, but how does one not mourn the loss of something so grand…

I believe we are responsible to give back to the forests so that balance is at hand. I didn’t cry though, I held it in my belly…maybe I should have let it all out…It might have been really healthy.

We were only able to travel along that path for a little while longer on because the city clock of responsibility was calling us home to take care of a few things that night. On our way back down the trail we sat on the edge of a perfect look-out perch, a divine spot where we could view the ruins of the ash world below us, and we could see both the mountain and the lake while we sat within the safe sanctuary of the old growth paradise.

At that spot we had church. My husband, my son, my daughter and I, we gave thanks to our Creator for the magnificence and mysteries of life.  We sat together for a while and each of us shared what God had displayed to us during our time out there and we gave thanks.

For starters, my son talked about how the mountain farts and he explained to us all, with certainty that it had really bad gas so it just had to explode. So he learned that mountains fart just like people. I am pretty sure he got that one from his dad… My boy was thankful for lunch and Moonshine (our dog) and the flatulent mountain.

My daughter shared how she learned about the health of huckleberries and how they are nutritious for our bodies. She expressed how God displayed to her how much plants need water. My daughter was thankful for water and plants that we can eat.

My husband talked about the trees in the old growth forest. He has a love affair with trees.  He shared with us how the trees have always been a symbol to him of how wondrous our creator is. My husband was thankful for the dam he built with the kids, the time spent away from work and of course for the trees.

I shared with my family how I struggled to see the beauty in the soot land below, how the entire time part of me was just waiting to get out of it. I was reminded of the cleansing that takes place out of the ashes, I was reminded of the new life forming all around me. I gave thanks for the ash… I gave thanks for the pain.

Those spindly baby trees down below were making their way out of the purified soil and the former land, post eruption, was now decomposing in the form of ash; the soil will grow rich because of this. The cleansing of the forest will allow new light to shine through so that baby trees can travel tall and new flora and fauna can flourish. One day the emptiness will be alive and full; a great forest once again. 

Our creator gives and takes away, and this is an example of what that give and take is all about, and how nature, God’s most perfect worshipers will always continue to loyally say, “blessed be the Lord!” … “Even the rocks cry out…”

Sometimes it is hard to see the beauty when you are the one in the ashes. Life in the ashes can be blinding… blind to the new growth that is taking place. 

Sometimes we have to feel the pain in order to grow…

Sometimes, it takes the rising actions of change in order to lift our heads out of the dirt and rise…rise to see life from a different perspective.

Yes, out of the ashes there will rise beauty, grace and life!

It wasn’t until we sat in that spot with that window view of the grey below, that I saw the new perspective… it wasn’t until then that I was reminded of the beauty that was and is and is to come.  “There is beauty in the dirt.”

“I am mountain, I am dust
Constellations made of us
There’s glory in the dirt
The universe within the sand
Eternity within a man

We are ocean, we are mist
Brilliant fools who ruled and kiss
There’s beauty in the dirt
Wandering in skin and soul
Searching, longing for a whole”

– Gungor “I Am Mountain”

(A song worth listening to)

Chard, Kale, Oxalates…and old punk rock memories.

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If I could climb into a time machine and go back to the past, I would travel to the year 2001. The year that I got married. I would re-live the preparations for our wedding. The center pieces on the tables would be a bright display of purple, white and yellow cabbages all bundled together in a circular nest surrounded by various brightly colored vegetables huddled around and fully garnished with edible flowers.

My bridesmaids, groomsmen and honorable mentions would all be wearing elegant yet flavorful corsages and boutonnieres made out of flowered lavender, mixed with thyme, basil, rosemary and mountain top dandelions.

Then lastly, my favorite part, I would walk down the aisle with an arm full of vibrant rainbow chard and kale. I would also want to add flowering herbs such as chives, lavender, bee balm, and meadowsweet. Lovely lambs ear and dead-nettle mixed into the bunch as well. Maybe some mountain top dandelions for my bouquet, not to mention a few dangling cherry tomatoes and the vine of sugar snap peas poking out around the lower edges; hanging delicately like little bells. To finish it up I would want the vine of grapes used to wrap it all together, it would be a vine that still had the very start of tiny un-ripe miniature grape bundles hanging from the strands. OH yes wouldn’t that all be amazing…

This idea sparked after I gathered a heaping amount of kale and swiss chard into a lovely bundle from my garden. I held it all in my hand and mindlessly began arranging them, so that the yellows and reds of the chard would shine through. I admired the beauty and I began to daydream about how amazing an edible wedding would be! I think I will save this idea for a 25th wedding anniversary or something of that nature!

In reality I would never go back and change one thing about my youthful punk rock wedding. We are different people now, my husband and I, and each decade we change. Our outward forms of expression are symbolic for both who we are and who we were.

Oh for memories sake let me tell you a little about it: When I got married I was only 19 going on 20. We were young wild things, My hair was tinted with tips of firetruck red and my husband’s mohawk matched in color. My lip was pierced with a silver lip ring embellished with a red gemstone in the middle to match our fiery hair. Our wedding party wore black high-top converse shoes and our wedding colors were red, white and black. We danced to a song by Danzig called “Sistinas”.  Our youthful spirits filled the dance floor with a ruckus of movement as we rollicked the night away with beat driving 1980’s music saluting the open space of the room.

Now, here I am 12 years later with two kids and my 3rd dog-child Moonshine a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, still married to the man of my dreams who is now a hard working responsible foreman, who frequents the barber shop to keep his hair precisely trimmed.  I of course wish he would let it go wild, at least, just a little bit. No more days of barbarian mohawks and metal lip rings for us…

No, I garden and take pictures of kale and chard and imagine a wedding with a different kind of ambiance. I have definitely changed.

I love leafy greens in the garden, with most of them you can continue to snip away at their stalks and they will continue to give you a harvest for months.

I am harvesting rainbow chard and kale with my dinners weekly. I like to understand what my food does for my body when I eat it.  When I first started to get interested in the topic of health food and traditional culinary practices I purchased the book “Nourishing Traditions”.  This book is stock full of little excerpts on each page that tell you so much history and fact-full information about what you are eating. So whenever I made a meal from the book I would sit down at our table and read to my little family about what their food was going to contribute to their bodies. It is captivating to me to understand the science behind my food.

Kale, is this robust strong mighty leaf that can often brave the changes in weather and be harvested up until early winter, depending on the circumstances. Web Md calls it the “queen of greens”.  It’s health benefits trump the best of them and it’s flavor is rich to the taste buds.

KALE’S LIFE-GIVING FACTS:

– Did you know that Kale has more iron than beef! Hard to believe! It is being dubbed, “The New Beef”.  Due to it’s high iron content it promotes healthy hemoglobin and enzyme growth, it aids in bringing valued oxygen to vital parts of cell growth, and it also contributes to proper liver growth.

– High in Vitamin K! Vit. K is a great carcinogen fighter for your body! It also supports bone growth and the prevention of blood clotting.

– Kale has omega 3’s which are essential for fighting inflammation. It is important to eat anti-inflammatory foods in order to create a healthy alkalinity in our bodies.

– High in vitamin A which equals good vision and great skin.

– High in vitamin C, that means immune boosting time when you shovel down some of those greens!

– High in calcium: Bone loss prevention!

– Kale can be used to promote detox with it’s high fiber and sulfur content which promotes a healthy liver.

Swiss chard is not as hearty as kale, it’s leaf shines with color as the veins tend to be the shade of the stem and the leaf almost looks waxy because of it’s lush luminous green hues. To be honest, I never really ate chard before I planted it in my garden. I am sure it was in mixed packages of salad greens, but I never intentionally purchased a bundle of chard from the store. After growing it, it is definitely a leafy green that I am learning to cook with and I thoroughly enjoy!

Rainbow chard is as vibrant in appearance as it is in it’s flavor. It can be harvested typically between June and up to November. Both the leaves and stalks are edible. Rainbow chard can be cooked pretty much anyway that you want: boiled, braised, steamed or saute’ed (this goes the same for kale).

SWISS CHARD’S LIFE-GIVING FACTS: 

– Full of vitamins K, A, and C!

– It is packed with potassium, magnesium, iron and fiber.

– It is considered a super food as it is high in antioxidants. Immune boosting super powers!

– Rich in B-complex vitamins.

– Chard is a member of the beet family, but the roots are not edible.

WARNING: Something to think about…  Do you know about oxalic acids? 

Most of us are hopefully aware that rhubarb leaves are poisonous. It is important to only eat the stalk of rhubarb and to discard the leaves. Why? Because the leaves are so high in oxalic acids that they are detrimental for human consumption.

What is oxalic acid? A quick description is that it is a chemical found in many plants. The acid binds with calcium which creates calcium oxalate, which is an insoluble salt. Too much oxalic acid can be dangerous.

It is so trendy right now to consume kale, spinach and chard in smoothies…juice them, smoothie them up or throw them in your salads. I hear this advice all of the time, but what a lot of people don’t know is that too much raw oxalic acid from certain greens is counterproductive. All of these leafy greens are considered super-foods. We want them, they are really good for us, but eating too much of it raw is not the best plan, why? because lightly cooking these greens frees up the oxalic acid count. Most studies say that Kale is not high enough on the oxalic count to worry about. However, chard and spinach are both very high in acids.

Kale has a much lower amount of oxalic acid compared to chard. Many greens have a level of oxalic acid thus if you veto out kale you would have to veto out a large number or greens, and these are edible plants, gifts to the human body meant to be eaten.  Most sources say that eating kale raw is fine but I would simply recommend eating it raw in moderation. I personally prefer to steam or lightly saute’ them because I don’t want to worry about levels of oxalic acid and of course the famous kale chips are a perfect way to intake these nutritious greens. WHFoods offers information on kale and I take their advice on the healthiest way to eat kale is to steam it. They also have a very informative section on the oxalic acid in kale.

Swiss chard actually has a very high content of oxalic acids and WHFoods states, “Swiss chard is only one of three vegetables we recommend boiling to free up [oxalic] acids and allowing them to leach into the boiling water; this brings out a sweeter taste from the chard. Discard the boiling water after cooking; do not drink it or use it for stock because of its acid content.”

Most people are not aware of oxalic acid, and an over consumption of oxalic acid is said to promote kidney stones. Studies show that if you have any type of existing or untreated kidney issues or gallbladder problems that you might want to avoid the high oxalic vegetables all together.

One thing that is important to understand is that food is truly thy medicine. Their is a science to every plantae that you eat and knowing your food means understanding what it can do for you and whether your body should be eating it.  Just like not all prescriptions are for all people, not all food is for all people. We need to educate ourselves about our own bodies and about the right food for our bodies.

I personally enjoy the super food that swiss chard and kale are but I take heed to the recommended wisdom that it is not a leafy green to consume raw, or at least done in moderation.

Or…you could always grow them in order to make elaborate wedding bouquets for an edible wedding?!?!…  😉

More info on Oxalic Acid: 

Click here for info on Kale

Click here for info on chard

Click here for more of a thorough reading on oxalic acid

It is important to take into consideration that I am not a nutritionist. I am someone that is deeply interested in food science but I do not have a degree. It is imporant for you to talk with your personal naturopath, integrative doctor or nutritionist and/or do more research for yourself.

Thanks for reading,

– Jenny Rose

 

 

 

Humble Beginnings From Torn Up Roots…

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Grapes growing, wildly overgrown, in my yard. Can’t wait to taste their ripened sweetness again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has only happened once… maybe twice, when I have tasted a grape, the kind with seeds inside and I could taste my childhood.  There was a forgotten grape vine in my backyard yet I was always there, as a child, gleaning from that wild vine…

Within every suburban/urban yard there is life! Life in those flower beds, life in that green grass, life in the city limit lot that you now own or rent. We, as North Americans, mostly maintain own our little city plots of land…this is what we have, this is what we work with, this is our claim.

I have a dream to live in the country one of these days…Oh yes, one of these days I want to live and breathe and smell the country air with all of my heart and soul.  However, today is not that day… and if everyone wanted to live in the country we would no longer have country.

The city is an interesting place, an energetic magnet of thousands upon thousands of people with voices and opinions; diversity pulsing through it’s ebb and flow… and of course there are the real-time responsibilities of  jobs and needs and homes and yards and…yet… within the crazy hectic beating heart of the civic lands there is the inherent desire to stretch out, the appetite to smell the roses so to speak; to reach our arms high into the patterns of the sky and shout, “I- am – Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!” Like wild beasts raising our chests to the thunder of freedom after the lightning strikes.

I know we all feel that. I know we all want that. I know…  because I feel it too.

I say, make revolution where you are at. Anywhere that you stand. Peaceful revolution.  I am!… OR more honestly– I WANT TO! That is why I write! I desire to write with the voice that I want to be and the vision and hopes and dreams and the current of what is and what I want to see.

I cannot say that my humble garden, a first year gardener, as a rudimentary edible creationist, is ever going to make front page news! However, I can say that we can make use of our lots in a simple kind of way… we can make some amazing things out of our small or regular sized plots of earth. You and I, let us do this together. Far and wide, close and cozy, let us do this collectively! With each garden, each edible landscape; with every bit of bee and butterfly friendly plants measured into your safe and anti-chemical yards; we can create a revolution together.  Not one little humble garden but many!

I have heard those doubts in my mind of, “Oh I will farm or garden or grow things or take care of animals when I move away from the city, when I have more room.” OR “I am too busy right now, and I don’t have a spot for a garden.” Anywhere that there is earth you can grow, I can grow, life will thrive if we let it!

There is no longer space for that doubtful frame of mind. I know far too many revolutionary artisans of the urban garden, caretakers of the backyard chickens, and makers of bee-keeping whom all live within the city in their regular lots… hence I can no longer say, “yes, let’s wait till we have more room to grow…”

NO! I am here in my city home, I can grow a garden… Then what is next, what more will happen later? I know that by taking one small baby step forward, new things will be added, life is happening. You can take a stroll through my humble garden.  It would take you 1 or 2 minutes to see all there is to see within my 3 long coffin-like garden beds streaming with life.  I am a writer so I passionately write on what fills me with inspiration, even the most simplistic of things; I write as if it is the most epic happenstance of all of history. I am daily filled by an outpouring of affection for my humble little first time garden and I am excited about what may grow from this.

I know many neighbors and friends that may have organic life exploding out of their yards, much more than I do; more robust with more seeds sowed and massive amounts harvested and I envy such beauty, in a loving-awestruck way. I am thankful for their example and efforts and I hold them as exemplary humans to seek wisdom and understanding from.

You see, as a child, I was hardly taught to live like this, I wasn’t trained to be a gardener by example, but I was surely trained to be a consumer. Yet there were those every other weekend hikes in the summer months to “Terabithia” with my father where he taught me to dance with the trees of the forest, and to pick mushrooms and to smell the pines and firs of the great trees. I love him for that, He taught me the seeds of change in that particular way.

My father was the cultivator, a man whom I had no idea that he had wisdom to grow life until I was in high school and he started with the only garden that I can remember in a rental that we lived in on those rare weekends. I am sure he gardened before that, in fact I know he did; I grew up in the deserted remnants of his garden work, with wild grape vines and empty rabbit cages on that far side of our forgotten yard,  but the garden in the backyard of his rental when I was 16 was the first one that I can remember him tending to.

So much of my life seems to have to do with what was lost… I want to cultivate and grow things, and in some way it makes me feel like I am re-birthing the empty spots of my childhood.

I am a feeler, one of those people that deeply senses everything. My intuition is on hyper drive and I can understand where most people are at. I think that comes with the territory of trying to find oneself at the same time.

My humble garden is growing better than I had ever expected! My modest suburban yard, it is nothing but yellowed grass under this sun-burnt summer sky. I am merely a writer, that expresses the simple things of every day life, if we all would just sit down and write about our little yards, wow what a phenomenal anthem that might be!

Potatoes Taught Me Faith…

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There are hidden treasures below the surface…sometimes we merely need to dig a little while in order to find them…

So often this year, I have just stood there and stared at my garden after watering it. Sometimes after I get out of my car from wherever it was that I had gone, I step out and just gaze. I get wonderstruck in the effort of gardening and begin to daydream. As a first time gardener I want to do more than I do, but I don’t always know exactly what is specifically needed within each step, I am in the midst of learning tricks, so sometimes I revert to the job of simply peering into each bed and musing over it’s growth… it’s more of a fascination really.

A lot of times, it seems that it is after I have already finished something that I find that there is a “better” way that I could have done it. I planted potatoes on a whim.  They were not part of my original list of vegetables to plant in my garden beds.  One afternoon my nose lead me to a smell of rotting potatoes in the pantry, organic Yukon Golds wasting away.  They weren’t quite obsolete in value though; I noticed that all over the spuds there were sprouts protruding outwards.  Instead of composting them I decided, why not take a chance and plant them.

I loosened the soil with my hands and cut the potatoes into halves or into thirds.  Then placed them below to see what might happen.  After a couple of weeks the hibernating potatoes brought forth into view from the depths of the soil these adorable little green leafy plants! I was thrilled! I wondered though; will these be void of fruitfulness when all is said and done. Sure, the potatoes might grow up into these large and robust looking plantae, but what will I find within the soil after the growing season is finished, will it simply be a flourishing amount of greenery, or will there be a hiding harvest to be discovered?

I have heard that you need to purchase actual seed potatoes and that I shouldn’t use the grocery store bought ones because they may not yield any new potatoes.  I had also read that it is good to have your potatoes in acidic soil with a pH level of 6.0 or below and that one should add alfalfa meal, soybean meal or another high-nitrogen organic fertilizer. Lastly, I read that you should not plant your potatoes in soil that contains manure because this can create rough patches on the skin. All of this may be true and is very helpful information, however, I of course read all of the above after I had planted my “faith” potatoes.

I call them faith potatoes because against all odds and against the grain of conventional directions I planted them and I continued to hope that below the surface something was happening…

My garden beds have manure in it. My sprouting Yukon Golds were from a local grocery store,  I have no idea what my soils pH level is because I haven’t gotten around to testing the soils balance. I did not add a single dosage of organic feed to the soil.  I simply took the sprouted potatoes, planted them, and watered them.  Yes, I did sing them a song or two. My plants love it when I sing to them…

After a while my lovely potato plants, well more like miniature bushes because they grew so high and green and wide, they began to flower. Little dainty white flowers with a yellow center.  Again, I admired all that I could see; the flowers and the lush green foliage. Yet, I continued to hope and wonder what might be happening below the surface.  By this point I had read all of the do’s and don’ts of potatoes and I had discovered that I had accomplished a lot of the don’ts… My expectations were not extremely high at this point, but I waited and I wondered that possibly, just maybe, we might be getting some of our very own potatoes from this earthen patch.

Months had gone by, the plants continued to visibly grow untamed, tall and wide. Then today, a hot Saturday afternoon in July, we arrived home from a fantastic time at our local farmers market and all 4 of us did that thing that I tend to do. We climbed out of the car and just stood there and stared at the garden, watchful and hopeful.  My husband began to look at all the tomatoes that are finally showing up.  Then as I was introducing him to all of the green cherry tomatoes he began pushing his hands into the soft soil below one of the potato plants.

“Careful Josh, you might hurt the babies!” I warned him. I was thinking that if there was anything reproducing beneath the soil that they were still so young; vulnerable little spudlings that needed to stay within the dark cocoon of the earth…  And then…dirt I dig you potatos2

Out of the dirt rose beauty… Out of the unknown he starts pulling out these baseball sized golden potatoes, bright, fresh and gleaming; all covered in rich dirt. My children squealed in delight.  I gasped in shocked excitement. It was an amazing experience to see these edible treasures come forth from a place that I could not see that will now feed my family …

Beneath the soil things were happening that my eyes could not perceive…life was forming in the spaces of mystery.  There is a precarious line in life of visual-factual understanding and faith-understanding.  I have always thought faith was strange, because I feel like I have faith and hope; I feel like I can believe in what I cannot see…yet that doesn’t mean I didn’t ever doubt. Although, I was always taught to never doubt… However, without doubt how can one have faith? If there isn’t anything to wonder about, if there was never any reason to question things than faith would not exist…it would merely be factual and the guess and the mystery would be gone…

Here I am tonight with a bowl full of potatoes in my kitchen. Soaking them in vinegar water, cleaning all the dirt from their skins; like a baby birthed from the mysterious womb and then washed, cleaned and wrapped into the arms of her mother.

All I can say is I have faith in potatoes… potatoes taught me faith and that is good enough for me. I have learned that there are rules and tips and guidelines that will show you how to do something based off of what others have already done, but there are times when nature shows off it’s wild side, free and fertile; nature wants to thrive…all living things want to grow…it is the elemental connection that we all have, we all want to be and feel alive! Thank you Creator for this humble harvest.

Making Earth

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I recently saw a documentary titled, “Dirt The Movie”.  I highly recommend this film, I just now watched the video clip of the film and it reminded me how much I love the message.  Without healthy soil there is no life, no growth and no food.  So on that note, I have decided that the first step that I should make is to learn the art of composting.  It is more complex than you might think.  Fortunately, this year my kids and I are studying under the wisdom of a master composter in which I am gleaning every bit of her good knowledge that I can.

Composting is to make earth.  When you compost you are literally taking organic material (living matter) and turning it into soil.  Everyday the earth is naturally composting, this is part of the rhythm of life.  The trees fall, leaves blow to the ground, apples drop, living elements fall and die; everything living, include humans, takes its course to become once again part of the earth and the living nutrients then decay into the earth and become soil; life giving and nutritious, enforcing growth and new birth.  Winter is near and one thing that I can focus my time on is composting, while it is too cold to practice gardening I want to create a habit of making earth.

Composting is an ancient proven practice, practiced by this beautiful created mother earth herself and also by the humans who have dwelled on this gifted land.  It is said “that The ancient Akkadian Empire in the Mesopotamian Valley referred to the use of manure in agriculture on clay tablets 1,000 years before Moses was born” (http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/history.cfm).  Also in our own North American continent the practice of composting is attributed to the Native Americans as being a main example and teachers of this practice. You can dig into the studies, historical and present, how every culture and creatures participate in the cycle of composting using their own methods, depending on where their geographical dwelling is…it is entirely fascinating.

As I attempt to begin this ancient practice I will use it in a rather new way– or perhaps simply “new to me”! My first task at hand: Lasagna gardening.  I keep a large jar next to my kitchen sink and put my compost into it as I cook or clear dishes.  One thing to keep in mind is there are certain things you should never compost and a simple guide of what not to put into your compost can be found HERE.

After my jar fills up I am currently dumping the compost into a pot which I will be using to plant garlic.  Garlic is something to plant in the fall, just as we plant tulip bulbs in the fall.  Lasagna Gardening is something new to me and works in full reliance on healthy compost, creating nutrient rich soil and gardening at the same time.  IMG_8362

Lasagna Gardening requires that you layer your garden area or pot with green and browns.  The following is a list of common greens and browns from Earth Friendly Gardening: http://earthfriendlygardening.wordpress.com/2006/05/09/browns-greens-what-to-compost/.

Browns

  • Fall leaves
  • Hay & straw, cornstalks
  • Shredded cardboard & newspaper (newspaper inks are soy-based which are OK)
  • Paper plates, bags, towels
  • Chipped brush, sticks, twigs, branches, bark
  • Sawdust
  • Pine needles (but not more than 10% of the pile)

Greens

  • Vegetable & fruit wastes
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds, filters, & teabags
  • Horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, gerbil, goat, sheep, rabbit, pig manure
  • Weeds without weed seeds & other yard waste (without chemicals)
  • Grass clippings (but not if you use harmful chemicals on your grass!)
  • Seaweed (give it a good soak to remove excess salt)

After piling my fresh greens from the kitchen into the pot I then spent some time raking leaves and twigs to use as my browns.  I have a dog and his turf is our backyard.  Because in the fall season the leaves can easily get mixed up with the dogs poop I will only use raked leaves from the front yard which I know is free from pet feces.  It is very important to never use manure from household pets such as dogs or cats.  I then take the browns (leaves and twigs) and pile that on top of my greens.  I step down on it all to press it down a bit and simply put my pot in a cozy corner of my yard and allow that to compost naturally while I wait for my glass jar to fill back up and do another layer.  Once I have a couple of layers I will then take some fresh soil and/or aged compost and layer that on top of it all and then water the entire thing. Ideally one might also add mulch and manure to the top in order to create a beautiful soil making environment that holds in the moisture needed but also naturally deters weeds.  At that point I will be ready to plant my garlic bulbs while the fall season is still here.  Lasagna Gardening is really fantastic and it makes use of my compost at the same time as planting, while literally giving your plants a base of nutrients to blend into soil all winter long!  I am thrilled to know that instead of just sending my extra food down the garbage disposal or into the trash can, I can actually use it to create incredibly rich, nutrient dense living soil!

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First Greens go into the pot. Little puppy Moonshine loves to hang out with me wherever I go, he is my little shadow.
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NEXT I gathered some browns. Fall is a great time to gather browns because we have them falling all over our yards 🙂 I was careful to only gather leaves where my dog doesn’t go to the bathroom.
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Then I layer the browns on top of the greens, compress it a little bit and let it sit. The magic of compost will begin to unfold slowly and more rapidly as I add more layers soil and water.

Of course you can also compost straight into a compost bin. There are numerous ways to do it. The lasagna version is simply a method to do it in a way that allows aging in the lower layers, creating immense nutrition for the roots of your plants to climb into and of course that top layer of healthy organic soil is a must as the lower layers age.

I feel like a little kid learning to ride a bike for the first time.  Sometimes I chat with some of my seasoned gardener neighbors and friends about the simplest of things and they look at me like this is old news for them.  But to me the simplicities of this process is revolutionary and I am learning and I am really really excited!  Isn’t it funny that a large majority of young adults in our society probably have no idea how to do this stuff.  In our society today gardening is profound, at least for my generation.  The practice is something sacred and cannot be forgotten and in our manipulative food system gardening is one of the biggest ways to peacefully fight the system, to be independent and to “feed thyself”.  In our nation where we claim to be such an independent society, we are actually far more dependent than we realize.  Independence is not defined solely on our freedom to say or do what we want with our lives… that can be part of it, but to me if one has the knowledge to survive regardless of how well your government or how badly your government is providing for it’s people, true independence is being able to work together, to create community and to not rely fully on societal systems to feed and care for you. I believe in taking my part to work the earth, to learn and to understand what it takes to feed myself.

With everything I am learning…forgive me if I get it wrong the first time, but that is what my blog is all about, I am literally taking what I learn, as I learn it and putting it into practice at home and vulnerably sharing it on here with you, keep in mind I am no master and only a person eager to learn, to try, to practice and to fail and to try again… I am experimenting and gleaning from what has been done before.  Your thoughts and your knowledge is greatly accepted and I want to encourage you to share with me what you know.  I believe we all have something to offer one another and I want to learn from you. Another important thing that I am learning is that there are no specific right ways, everyone has something to share, a trick of the trade. There is so much to learn and I cannot imagine that there is ever a master status that one can reach, it is a life long learning journey, a sharing of knowledge to one another in a way to lift and help each other up. I see that life is like that with everything!

Much love and peace to you!

 

The Branches Must Never Forget Their Roots…

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The branches must never forget their roots; for if they do, they too, will be lost.”  – Author Unknown. 

Now it is time that we sink back into the earth of our “homeland” and press our roots into the soil.  Last February we signed our names onto the official documents claiming our first home.  A year before that we finally moved back to our hometown in Washington State after years of transient life in Hawaii and Alaska.   From long gaps of being away and then finally coming home we have found that it feels like we are starting all over: rekindling old relationships, letting go of what was and making new starts; assessing life goals and aspirations, learning to build community when all we have known is our own little world of Hawaiian sun and beaches, moving endlessly, addicted to change for the 5 years that we were away.

The biggest change after deciding to come home was the purchase of our new house, a 1960’s fixer upper tucked into a corner lot of an older suburban neighborhood. The new house symbolized a sense permanency, which both scared me and gave me peace at the same time. With this new mortgage commitment has come the reality of far too many undertakings in order to build up a place to call home while having to deal with leaky pipes every weekend and one thing needing replaced after another.  To top it off we also have the task of turning a neglected yard that was beaten and bruised by round-up weed killing chemicals and other poisons of that nature for years and years.

I have been learning that the dirt of the earth is a lot like our stomachs.  We have to take care of ourselves in order to maintain healthy flora and when our gut is healthy we flourish.  The same idea is also true for our our soil.  We are the caretakers of this earth and what we put into the soil effects the health of its alkalinity, its “flora”, so to speak, and we can create a harvest ground for good; for the enrichment of the earth or a place of death that births imbalance and fake beauty for the cost of toxicity.  I will get into that in detail later as I am just getting started here. 😉

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Combating the jungle one weed at a time.

This summer, which sadly has now come to an abrupt end, was a time for me to get down and dirty in my new yard.  This involved pulling hundreds upon hundreds of choking weeds that had inhabited the garden beds and strangled so many plants that were trying desperately to thrive. This involved getting rashes on my arms and neck from who knows what was in the dust of that dry dirt and creating new places of beauty.  While I spent so many hours out there in the love feeding sunshine digging with my hands deep in the earth, something remarkable happened to me.  Something magical that I can only describe as spiritual.  I fell in love with the dirt.  The smell, the feel, the life from within it. The energy!  The fibers of our beings are built up from the earth, and we eat from the dirt, and our bodies will nourish the dirt again someday.  Its a fascinating cycle and to ignore this very giving element that we walk upon every day is to ignore life itself.  Our Creator made no mistakes in the circle and community of life.

Maybe I found this connection with the soil because I chose to only use my hands and the work of my labor to bring new life to my yard.  It is really a simple thing to go outside and do yard work, it just takes time and commitment. But when you stop for a moment and analyze the suburban destruction that often goes into place when so many homes are maintaining chemical lawns, the results are profoundly negative for our earth.  I felt that maybe because I chose to work hard rather than to find a quick solution with a chemical spray gun, I was able to connect with this new piece of land in a deeper way.  So this summer as I became dear friends with my grass, my trees, my flowers, my dirt, even my weeds… I made a vow… I promised to this little plot of land of mine, that I would not put anything into it that would destruct natures natural way of life.

As my inspiration and love for the beauty of this earth continues to grow I am finding a hunger to learn.  With all of this change I have been encouraged and I aspire to create a more sustainable life for myself and my family.  I really am clueless, I am a learning spring chicken (so to speak), and therefore with an open mind I have started my adventure.  This being my fresh infant post of this blog, I would love to invite you to join me in my journey of learning to become a caretaker of the soil, learning to become more of a self sustainable human on this earth and also taking on the challenge of homeschooling my two children for the first time, as well as pursuing my college dreams.  I have my hands full, but I would much rather have my hands full, then to have them empty. So much newness all at once, with overwhelming challenges, my convictions push me to tread onward because my spirit would be rotting if I did not allow myself to find freedom in knowledge, change and progression.

– Jenny Rose

(This post above was written in October of 2013, it is now February 2015 and I am still onward with this path. The soil in our yard is healing! Our home renovation is still underway, at least 40% completed…ha ha ha, it takes time, this one was a major fixer upper. I nearly have my bachelors degree. I am still homeschooling my kids, the change within them is amazing. I have learned to garden, and still learning, I am still composting, I will be studying herbology starting next month as an apprentice and I am planted within a local church community. Why am I listing all of this? It is because looking back on my first blog post, it is encouraging to know that I am still taking steps in the same direction… For once in my life I am hanging onto things and practicing them in a real way. I am a wanderer at heart, so sticking to things is something new for me. I have had a tendency to scatter myself as a sower releases seeds across the land, except in my case all of the seeds are pieces of myself that I have planted in many directions, only to find that my roots were shallow because there were too many pieces of myself stretched out into too many directions. Since 2013, I have slowly begun to form into a person that seeks simplicity in my lives direction, not to hide from challenges, but to hone into what I can do in my life that I feel is well with my soul. I love the line from Little Women where Jo says, “I should have been a great many things…” I have always connected with that, with whatever I find myself doing I become incredibly passionate about it, and I can see myself being good at many many things, but if I stretch my talents into too many things, I will never become good at anything and then I just feel fizzled out. So here I am reflecting on my original inspirations in this phase of my life and I am still stepping forward into this rich path that we call life. I am thankful that I am finally learning to find direction, although I can’t fully say what that is, but I can feel it happening right before with each step that I take and I am at peace with the bends and curves, and hilltops to climb, I am at peace with it; although it is hardly easy…  peace and love to you!  – Jenny Rose )