Teach Me

… She opened up and explained to me that as a black woman she has too often been described in her life as cool or brave or strong; she has more often experienced compliments that are masculinizing. She shared with me that her hair is like an object to people: different, trendy, or interesting. What she wants though as a woman, is to be embraced with adjectives such as beautiful, stunning, and pretty.

White people, she told me, always get those kinds of compliments. Black people … get strong.

In that moment held between the two of us, I leaned into her story and I empathized deeply with her words. It was something that in my privilege I had been completely naïve about. It took asking questions and listening, despite my pride.

And at that table, I looked at my friend and I apologized:

I am sorry. I am sorry that my words put you back in that same place that you have been rising up out of. I am sorry that my words belittled your beauty. I am sorry for my ignorance within my privilege. I am sorry for your pain. … 

[ I am overjoyed to guest write over at SheLovesMagazine today! READ THE REST HERE ]

– Jenny Rose Foster

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)

Without Waste…and Learning and STILL Learning.

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A pattern has evolved in the household of our FoStew domain (Fostew is the abbreviation I give to the valued names of our last name-hood combined in this household).

First, I have really engrossed myself in the mysterious and amazing world of compost… this elemental practice is the gateway into the beginnings of life as we know it in regards to the food chain.  Now, that has lead me to think more actively about my daily actions of what can be re-used, recycled, or re-purposed. New ideas are hitting the fan all the time…  for now it goes a little like this… learning and observing and enjoying the fascinating actions of simplistic practices that I find phenomenal (like a kid in a candy store), which I am just now taking hold of and realizing that a very many of us today (especially my generation and younger) do not practice similar customs that really should have continued to be passed on down the generations.  My version of “age old cooking” and “recycling” and “reusing” is new to me, and old to me… it is a lot of information that I have gathered for years but have hardly put it into REAL practice… again, my efforts right now at this baby stage are truly simplistic compared to the hard work practice of my ancestors who are the real ambassadors of frugality… my learning has only just begun, because somewhere along the lines the traditions of simple homestead, earth making and sustainable practices for the most part have been deleted from the upbringing of today’s western society…but it begs me to wonder where was the fracture? Why have these traditions of re-using so much within the home, including the diet have come to an end in practical daily ritual for so many households in today’s world.

I know it was for me, until I became enlightened to the simplicity of the daily evaluation of intake, out-take and re-take; if that makes any sense.  Another thing that I have thought about is that for so long I have studied and known so many facts and with a head full of knowledge I could spout out many things that are good for us and good for the earth but in practice only a few things would meet my verbal standards. Admittedly, I am fond of knowledge and get thoroughly excited as a sanguine personality type can sometimes be shallow and thus my attempts at following through with my heart spasms are not always finish line worthy, although not intended, but a track record of not finishing is indeed an old habit.  That is why when practice and purpose takes form in my life, my heart is just leaping forward!! My actual current practice and progression in life is slow on the get go right now because I want to actually create a lifestyle here and slow steps are the answer for me; creating habits to LIVE by.  With these simplistic easy no brainer ways of conducting my home I would imagine that there are some people that may scoff saying, “That’s old news…”  Well sure, it is old news, very old news and it is certainly too bad that this old news of simplicity is not practiced by a majority today. It is so simple that it baffles me as I learn to change habits in our home.

Do you follow me?.. I know, I am ranting. Lets begin with what has inspired me tonight:

Sundays have within the past few months become my ritual day of preparation for the week.  Today I started dinner with the help of my daughter. My son was engrossed in Legos and my daughter was begging to help. My son, also begs to help but tonight he was not interested. My husband was out chopping wood all day to provide enough wood to heat our home for the next year and even though today is not a formal “work day” I consider it a day of rest for this human whom provides every bit of bread and butter for this family.

I am a feminist, and to me the word feminist really stands for “equalist”… it is a term that defines a way of life involving the awareness and activism and progression ascending towards a way of equality, therefore it goes both ways in regards to gender… specifically gender is not a question, yet socially it often is… we are both humans, we love each other, we work together and we both contribute to the household and that is pretty much it; the whole topic is really not all that complicated.  Regardless of gender, my husband is the money maker by choice and I am the college student, the teacher of our children (in cahoots with a local home school geared educational program lead by certified teachers), and also a stay at the home madre… and we all know the work that comes along with that title…no need for the mile long list. This is our current set-up ONLY because we chose this path while we raise our children ( I could go into depth as to why we chose this path; pointing at how most men make more money than women, mostly pertaining to two individuals without a college degree… and so on…but I will save that for another time…however, to throw out a bit of thought my spouse would just love to do my job if I had the opportunity to have a position to work outside the home that would make the same or more than he makes…).  I then as an equalist step forward with common sense and consider that my partner has worked very hard all day and I have also worked very hard, however, I consider my position as a place of freedom in comparison to his place of position at work, working under authorities and restrictions. Therefore, I find it liberating to be able to be the provider of meals and nourishment and health in our family.  I attempt to do the simple necessities such as laundry, dishes, sweeping and so forth during the week. Usually on the weekends he and I both cook, both clean, both take care of household needs… it is an equal system, not an expected system.

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Some busy kitchen action on a Sunday night. Chicken bone broth, leeks a sizzling, acorn seeds drying out in the colander, water boiling for dinner tonight, kale being chopped, garlic being smashed and gizzards slow cooking for a side dish of nutrient abundance!

OK so to the point of tonight’s blog entry:  Tonight while cooking dinner, I am multi-tasking every single thing that I do and it hits me… I realized tonight that I have created a new pattern for myself and I am really stoked about this.  As I explained above, this is all new to me, so when it really hits ground and I am actually doing it out of second nature and pattern; it feels pretty darn good.

I began with this… Cutting open acorn squash and erecting the seeds out of the middle and washing them in a strainer to set aside for slow roasted squash seeds in which to make later as a healthy snack. Also putting the squash guts into a giant stock pot I am preparing for bone broth.  I then throw the squash in the oven on top of coconut oil and proceed to grab the thawed whole chicken out of my fridge. I holler over to my beloved because I am still dealing with allergic eczema issues on my hands, I feel hesitant to dive into the carcass of a whole chicken with my vulnerable fingers.  He then preps the chicken, pulls out the neck and gizzards for me to re-use.  We throw the gizzards into a pan to slow cook so that we can eat it on the side with our meal tonight, providing a hefty amount of protein, iron and zinc, as well as, vitamin B-12.

I then throw some chopped up leeks onto the cast iron pan with a spoonful of coconut oil and Himalayan sea salt… I let that sizzle for a minute while I hop over to the cutting board to chop up some fresh veggies (celery and carrots and onions) to the bone broth stock pot. Then I jump back to the cutting board for more work on tonight’s meal and choppity chop up some fresh Italian kale leaves to add to the leeks and then I  threw a couple of diced garlic cloves into the mixture. I throw the stems of the kale into the stock pot. As that all simmers together, I boil some spelt noodles in a pot of water and then continue to work on the bone broth preparations, which is the staple of nutrition in our kitchen that has recently become a health revolution in this home!! Link for more info on health benefits.

The next step is to put the chicken and neck as well as the chicken feet into the stock pot. Let us not waste anything… the chicken feet included! What a gelatin rich broth you are missing out on without those feet! I fill the pot up with water and then add carrots, celery, 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, about 8 to 10 cloves of garlic, and left over vegetable pieces and egg shells that have been previously frozen from former meal preparations.  Again let nothing go to waste.  When chopping carrots make sure and save the carrot tops in your freezer, along with the tops of your leeks, the pieces of kale that you might not prefer if they are too tough, as well as, any vegetables that have just sat in your fridge that you would prefer to not eat but could just as well freeze and save for a broth.  Also, I have recently learned from the advice of an acquaintance to keep egg shells and put them in your stocks.  Basically anything that is edible; save the left over pieces and use them to create a nutritious addition to bone broth or compile left over vegetables to create an amazing vegetable broth. Keep it all in your freezer until the time is right.  Such simple money saving practices that literally use every element of the meat and produce that you purchase. You wouldn’t believe how many years of veggie scraps were simply piled into the garbage or disposal after mindless cooking sessions in the kitchen.

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My current freezer stock of vegetable pieces. I learned this trick from the master composter Mrs. Potter whom teaches our gardening class. I of course should probably put all of this into glass jars or non plastic containers, but this is what I got RIGHT now and as I continue adding new habits into our home I continue to adapt to new habits… for me success is learning and doing with ONE step at a time.

My growing weekly compost pile from our family of 4 is also invigorating… with every meal I add to it, the little pieces left over from the cutting board, the apple cores, the banana peels, the avocado seeds and skin… the list goes on with every meal.  I can’t help but to feel excited about the nutrition that I am planting into the earth from the organic material.  I may be a total earth loving nerd, but I am telling you, this simple stuff really rocks my world!!  If you are making vegetable broth from the vegetables that you freeze, after the broth is complete then simply add those veggies to the compost as well. Any and all vegetable scraps from your kitchen should be added to your compost container.  This is the very first step of the practice of “re-using” which promotes the sustainability and health of your own backyard soil and garden and essentially the EARTH 🙂 !!!

Also, please note: you do not want to add vegetables that have been cooked with meat or meat products to your compost, it may attract animals such as raccoon’s etc. to your compost pile(s) and can create a pest control issue in your yard.

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Compost over flow! Time to get out into that wintery weather for this weeks batch of compost to add to our lasagna gardening layers going on in big pots right now.

As we all know there is no paper or plastic these days that we should set inside the garbage can unless you have a specified recycling service that does not serve to recycle a certain number style of plastic.  Look into that for your own area.  I usually throw my recycling pile for the day into the far corner of one of my kitchen counters. Also, just a note, I am learning to request paper only, strictly learning to do this because of the issue with the form of plastic bags that are used at the grocery store, yet still I often forget… it is all about baby steps of progression and then as long as I am actively trying… one day it just suddenly fits, like a puzzle, stuck with me and BAM a habit is born.

In my house I generally hate clutter, I despise it actually, yet with life and children and busy days clutter is a constant battle…I have not gotten around to finding a bin to place under our sink in order to organize the clutter from recyclables, once I do, it will generally help out even more but in the meantime my counter corner works 😉 .  Whatever works for you, just make sure that recycling goes out there. It truly makes a difference rather than just filling up our land with garbage heaped land fills.

Tonight, I look over at my chaotic kitchen with piles of recyclables a midst my re-use of many products and my creations of meal based staples for the week, usable veggies being tossed in the freezer, unwanted veggie scraps thrown in the compost, as well as, a meal for this evening and I feel pretty darn good. My whole chicken will create endless meals.  Not only will the tender chicken last for 2 to 3 meals, the bone broth made, which is plumb full of vitality for the human body, will be used as soup broth, morning tea, and used to cook with rice or quinoa… basically most kitchen recipes that call for water, simply add broth.  It is so useful and so nutritious! Also, I usually cook my whole chicken on simmer with chicken feet and bones and all the other goods for at least 10 to 24 hours… the longer the better! My daughter adds her job into the mix by pulling out the savory acorn squash from the oven and douses them with cultured butter, cane sugar and salt. I mix up the spelt noodles with the leek, garlic and kale and some fresh basil and chopped tomatoes.  To top it off I celebrate this divine evening with a simple solitary glass of wine.  Ahhhhhh tonight feels good.

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Simple dimple: Recycle, reduse, reuse and close the loop 😉
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The stock pot filled with water and all the goodness included, now it is not officially to be called bone broth until it simmers for the next 10 to 24 hours… preferably 24, at least

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And lastly out of all these neat and tidy photos, I would like to share with you an actual photo of the whole chaotic picture of my kitchen land… and yes, we do draw on our floor with sharpie markers.  It is an old floor, why not have fun with it.  😉

With all that is expressed above I am doing this on a penny pinching budget… we have never been more “poor” than this time in our lives right now. So many expenses this year, but learning to create sustainable habits actually saves you money and you are eating a heck of a lot better.

This kitchen is a place where a lot happens and more is happening all of the time, the kitchen is a place where nutritious meals and tonics and staples are being created that fill our bodies with wholesome food and as I learn I continue to progress into a place that not only fills our bodies with good things but also gives back to the earth.  Goodness all around.  Not perfect yet, not even close, and hardly ever will be… waste still happens, but tonight I was stoked at the progression that is happening around here. Slow but progressive.  I was not raised to cook like this. In fact, I was raised pretty darn awesome considering circumstances and I have no sense of lack from that perspective.  However, I am joyful for the opportunity in my adulthood, and motherhood and personhood at this stage in my life to learn; to soak in the value of what good quality nourishment does to the human vessel and what the practice of sustainability in the kitchen can actually do for the environment around us… Imagine if this simple, easy cheesy puddin pie idea of sustainable practices in the kitchen, the stinken kitchen of all places, spread around the communities that we live in.  Our earth would definitely say thank you and so would our bodies.  Our purchases would begin to speak volume, as well as, the awareness we would experience as we begin to acknowledge the power of putting our money where our mouths are… supporting local farms and avoiding mass manipulative corporations that are controlled by only a few in this nation… imagine what the kitchen work of men and women of households can do with their simple actions. I am enlightened by this simple domestic revolution… 😉

And as I learn I continue to learn AND as I learn I continue to LEARN… and each time I learn I realize that these values are so darn simple… what have we lost within so many generations… practices of our ancestors that can speak wisdom into our lives TODAY.