Roots and Tubers Shine in This Winter Side

As anyone who’s followed this blog knows, I love me some good food. Always have. As a kid, I featured food in just about any fictional story I wrote.

So, I’ve got to share something I’ve been making a lot this fall/winter. Anyone can make it and it’s lovely if you are trying to eat with the seasons. The biggest time investment is slicing, and that takes 10 to 20 minutes, depending on root/tuber quantity and knife skills.

For this, you will need parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Because I like different colors, I’ve been using multi-hued carrots and purple/blue potatoes, but any carrots will work as will potatoes that hold their shape. I use three to eight parsnips (three, if they’re large, six to eight, if small), five to eight carrots, and two to three medium-sized potatoes.Multi-ColoredCarrots_LGlenn

Slice all of these into fairly thin disks.SlicingParsnips_LGlenn

Preheat the oven to 380 F.

On a large cookie sheet with sides, spread out enough foil so that the foil comes slightly above the sides.

Drizzle extra virgin olive oil on the foil.

Lay down the parsnips first. Be neat—or not. The main thing is to ensure you lay the root disks flat and that they don’t overlap much. Drizzle more EVOO on top of these.LayerofParsnips_LGlenn

Next, layer the carrots atop the parsnips the same way, ensuring they lay flat.

Drizzle a little less EVOO and sprinkle on Celtic sea salt (other salts are also okay, depending on what you’re going for) and black pepper, and begin to add whatever herbs you like. I use ground coriander and garlic here.LayeredParsnipsCarrots_LGlenn

Next, layer the tubers atop the roots, doing it the same way to ensure that everyone’s flat, not standing upright. Drizzle more EVOO, sprinkle more salt and pepper, as well as your herbs (here I add marjoram to the mix). You can dot the layers with garlic cloves, if you like.

About the herbs: Previously, I have ground everything together, to include rosemary along with the others I’ve mentioned. I prefer to grind the rosemary because I want to eat the rosemary, not leave it on the plate or have its needles stick in my teeth. (Plus, from an herbal standpoint, grinding means increasing the surface area and making more of what’s there available to the body.) I’ve used semi-fresh rosemary. What can I say? The sprigs were part of our plate decorations at a wedding and rosemary is too good to leave behind. So, no advance planning there, but otherwise I would need to remember to harvest a little beforehand.

Once the roots and tubers are ready, place in the preheated oven. It takes about 45 to 50 minutes for the three layers to bake. I set the timer at about 25 minutes so that I remember to flip the layers to some extent about mid-way through. That way, some of the disks end up crispy. I use the convect feature on the oven for the latter half of the time to ensure good air flow.ParsnipsCarrotsPotatoes_LGlenn

We’ve partnered this dish with bison, salmon and chicken and typically have something green to go with it (salad, green beans, peas, or cooked greens, such as chard). Any leftovers may be used again as a side—or in lieu of breakfast potatoes the next morning.

For people who cannot tolerate nightshades, omit the potatoes and you’ll still have a nice side dish.

Welcoming the Ancestors

Today, I am feeling a bitter-sweetness. I am grateful for my life, for this lifetime, and yet I also desire to sit in a huge circle, maybe around a fire, with all who’ve come before me, both those related to me through genetic heritage, but also those myriad others who’ve given rise to who I am now.

A Tuesday afternoon at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Ready-for-winter trees on a mid-October Tuesday afternoon at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

I know one day, I will meet them all. But for this time of year, I like to remember the ones whose photos I have, photos I will use to hold a space for them on the ancestral altar, and the ones whose photos I do not have or even whose names I do not know—all are important, all deserve my gratitude, no matter who they have been.

These few days go by the name of Samhain or other names, depending on one’s origins. I do not have anyone in my immediate family who shared the idea of an ancestral altar. My herb teacher, Kathleen Maier, planted that seed some years ago and it’s begun to germinate and grow strong roots.

The sweetness of this time of year echoes the harvest, the fullness of nature’s bounty that we’ve gotten to enjoy with the last of summer’s abundance and the continued abundance that comes up from Earth in the form of root vegetables or grows from trees in the form of our native and Asian persimmons.

The bitterness gets frozen in the “what if” nature of our minds, the part that often, despite our best efforts, sends out feelers of fear. It’s an ancient remnant of the deep knowing that not everyone will make it through the long, dark, cold months ahead. This seems true, even now, though most of us in the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn and winter enjoy heated homes.

Beech leaves, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Beech leaves, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Still, many people choose this time of year to leave. I often wonder whether they do so because the heart, in its old wisdom, is already somewhat prepared to accept losses at this time.

All around us, too, nature prepares. I’ve observed the sweet gum outside this week, as more and more of its leaves, shift from green to gold, maroon, ochre and orange; most of the leaves are still on the tree, but here and there, a single one falls as if it signaling it’s okay for the others to let go.

Even a few weeks ago, on a day trip to Dolly Sods, West Virginia, when there were still leaves lingering on the trees, mostly yellows, they danced in the wind as they made their way down…and even on the ground, they whirled about; they seemed happy.

That is a kind of joy that I intend for myself. To enjoy the grace and ease with which trees live their lives and then to let go, merrily and with an essential fervor and deep gratitude—I cannot think of a loftier goal.

The autumn day we brought Pooh home. What a great dog!

The autumn day we brought Pooh home. What a great dog!

Tomorrow, when we arrange the photos and write the names of those who’ve gone before us and light the candle that will burn through the following couple of days, I will remember those who’ve left me in the last year: my sister, Teresa, my friend, Eugene. I will add a photograph of Pooh, the Pomeranian-poodle, with impeccable timing, who I miss and still dream about, who could not have come into my life at a better time.

This time of year, however one celebrates, deserves our solemn attention, for it’s about remembering, it’s about reconnecting with the Source of everything, it’s about honoring, and it’s especially about gratitude.

Of Drums and Worms

I suspect that anyone with a front-row seat to my life—I was going to say especially in the last 15 years, but what the heck, let’s go for broke…from the get-go—would say I was a rather unusual person, and that would be putting it nicely.

Recently, my beloved’s brother loaned me part of his drum kit so that I could begin lessons. This new—it’s too new to be called a hobby—activity grew out of doing an article for UpStART Annapolis magazine about local photographer Dick Bond, then meeting the photographer for that story, Larry Melton, also a musician, who, when I asked who’s a good drum teacher, suggested Greg Phillips.

I don’t know how long I’ve been interested in drums, maybe my whole life, because after all, my older brother intended to play, but he ended up taking tuba in school. (Sometimes, I think we inherit the proclivities our of soul’s companions, though I’d be hardpressed to play tuba!) I have always enjoyed the drumming of Ginger Baker and many of the ’50s and ’60s jazz drummers, along with Carlinhos Brown, but my only experience drumming has been with a djembe, not a standard kit.

It turned out Greg was taking students and I went to Edgewater for the first lesson, but because of logistics and, of course, the absolute need to practice, I had to get my own set. I appreciate the loan, but did not realize how much room the kit would require. Plus, I didn’t want it on the main floor of the house as my beloved works out of the house and tolerant as he is, that may have interfered with his work. It would need to go in the basement.

Worm Factory Worm-Bin Composter

A stackable worm-bin composter: It holds more castings, but is not any easier than a homemade bin to harvest from.

First we thought we’d set the kit up in front of the chest freezer, which is opposite the washer/dryer. But I needed to make room and one of the things I needed to clear out, so I thought, was a multi-tray worm bin that my beloved bought me early in our relationship as a Christmas present. Maybe you are thinking, What kind of man buys his girlfriend a worm-bin composter?! Geesh! One unusual enough to be with me. That’s who!

My first bin, which I tried to make myself in 2005, failed because I did not have air circulation. I lived in a townhouse at the time and also had an outdoor composter, so the failure was not a huge loss. The next one, which succeeded, came by way of EcoStewards Alliance and was great for when I lived in an apartment. (When you’re living among thousands of people in a place where everyone wants everything super-manicured, good luck convincing the management that they need to create on-site composting.) That Rubbermaid tub had good air circulation and was the perfect size for one person. But when I moved to Annapolis and brought it with me, we soon found it was not enough for two people.

We generally use the worm-bin composter more through the winter and less in the summer, when there’s a ton of stuff outdoors to be composted, including certain weeds, comfrey leaves, and bulky things not appropriate for the indoor red wrigglers.

It had been a while since I “harvested” the worm castings, that is, the worm poo, which makes great plant food. I did about four trays, which amounted to a five-gallon bucket, a large bowl and a large enameled pot. And then, I started feeling really bad. These worms have been with me since late 2008. What was I going to do?

Worm castings, a.k.a., worm poo are like black gold.

Worm castings, a.k.a. worm poo, are like black gold.

I figured I’d just gather all of the castings, worms included, and place them around the outdoor plants that most need the fertilizer. And that would be that. The worms might get eaten and, if they made it to fall, would not survive below-50-degree temps.

A couple of days passed. We set the drum kit up in the living room and measured out how much space it took up. We did not have enough space near the chest freezer and we did not want to be banging into the drums with our laundry.

So, we focused on using a room where I store wool for hooking rugs. I reconfigured that, with the wool bins against the wall—and maybe providing more of a sound barrier—and set up the drum kit there. In a tight space.

Next up: Head phones and a metronome!

Next up: Head phones and a metronome!

I’ve kept four of the worm-bin trays, including two that should have some worms in them, harvested others from the castings I’d gathered and set up the four to restart the composting.

My beloved says all along, he suspected I would not be able to let go of the worms. And he’s right. I’m about five years ahead of schedule for when I had planned to start drumming, so I guess I can certainly let go of the “You’re getting too old to be messing with red wrigglers” self-talk.

I just hope the vibrations from the drums don’t stress out the worms.

Protect Your Base

Good health is your personal golden-egg-laying goose. Without it, nothing much works. And though it may be some people’s chosen life pattern to live at what others perceive as suboptimal levels of health, most of us aspire to generally feel well.

As a woman in mid-life, I look back in wonder: How did my parents seem to have so much energy when they were my age?

The answer, I think, has to do with how they set their priorities and structured their lives. For them, life was a regular series of weekday work and weekends spent getting things done that they could not otherwise achieve during the week. They allowed themselves a fair amount of exercise, ranging from roller speed skating (Dad), jogging (Mom and sometimes Dad), biking (Dad) and moderately paced walking (Mom). They generally prepared meals at home six out of seven days, though if a week involved more work, they might order a pizza one night or pick up Church’s Fried Chicken another night. Always, we had breakfast together and always, supper. Mom packed lunches the night before school or work.

Rinsing and de-stemming chard can take a while, so I like to prep two or three bunches in advance.

Rinsing and de-stemming chard can take a while, so I like to prep two or three bunches in advance.

I don’t eat the way we did back then. One of my highest priorities is focusing on fresh, whole foods and things made from scratch. Although preparing them does not require much time, getting the food to the stage where it can be cooked or put together does—whether it’s rinsing and de-stemming Swiss chard, prepping lettuce for salads, cooking beets in advance, and chopping potatoes or slicing squash.

Unless I’m terribly harried, I enjoy this work. But I also step back and marvel at what goes into this particular organism’s (my) self-maintenance. Without self-maintenance, by which I mean taking care of all the things you need to take care of you, it’s hard to have good self-regulation—whether in your everyday interactions with people or just day-to-day physical well being.

Food makes a huge difference. Even with somewhat lower energy levels, I’d be far worse off if I ate much the same way I used to, through my late 20s.

Once prepped, the chard keeps in the fridge for easy use, whether you eat it for breakfast, as we do, as for other meals.

Once prepped, the chard keeps in the fridge for easy use, whether you eat it for breakfast, as we do, as for other meals.

The more you eat high-quality food—less processed junk with chemical additives—the more you begin to notice a difference in your attitude toward life and your tolerance of things you may not have tolerated before, because you were running on empty, “didn’t have it to give” and may have been operating on a hair trigger, in terms of your reactions to others.

My beloved noticed this sensation just yesterday, at the summer solstice. We had breakfast out, at a place we enjoy as much for its ambience early on a Sunday as for its food. The difference was, this time, he felt hungrier than usual, so we ordered what we normally have there (quiche for him, eggs for me, and fruit for both of us) and split a side of roasted potatoes along with a side of sausage for him. Toward the middle of the day, he began to feel “off” in his abdomen. I noticed he seemed down and felt somewhat sluggish. The only thing we could peg it to? The thin disks of sausage, which looked to be the sort of product delivered by a large food distributor, not local and not grass-fed.

This increased level of sensitivity is a helpful thing; it helps us to maintain mindfulness about what we eat. I noticed something similar a few months ago when I ate a cheese pizza after years of being off gluten grains. It tasted great, at first. But the day after felt worse than a college-days hangover.

With tomato season coming soon, it's nice to stock up and make tomato soup to freeze for quick meals in the cooler months. All that's needed is a little sour cream!

With tomato season coming soon, it’s nice to stock up and make tomato soup to freeze for quick meals in the cooler months. All that’s needed is a little sour cream!

This is not necessarily because of gluten; it could be the fortified flour used to make the white flour used in the pizza. Given what felt like brain fog after eating the pizza, you can bet I won’t be having anymore unless I make my own at home.

Increasing your physical sensitivity around food is a wonderful gauge. Eating healthful foods will change your palate. Used wisely, your increased sensitivity helps steer your food and drink choices. But you do have to use it—to act on your “gut sense” as well as knowledge about food.

At the same time your physical food sensitivity gets sharpened, your personal tolerances may also change. This is good to experience, too. Eating healthful food grounds you and helps you become better attuned to what you want and don’t want in your life, what you will and will not accept, in terms of others’ behavior and your mutual interactions. Probably because it connects you with your surroundings—even if you buy from local farmers and don’t grow it yourself—eating food grown without chemical sprays and artificial fertilizers boosts your self-awareness. You may be more tolerant of other people generally while also strengthening your personal boundaries and acting on those boundaries in ways that respect both yourself and other people.

Good for you if you choose to grow some of your own food. For ease, it's good to choose low-maintenance perennials, such as this Asian persimmon.

Good for you if you grow some of your own food. For ease, choose low-maintenance perennials, such as this Asian persimmon.

A lot of people want to reach for herbs first to do what the often-long work of changing the diet entails. This is a mistake. Though it can be helpful to use certain herbs, or combinations of herbs, such as digestive bitters, in this process, herbs are not stand-ins for the daily intake of healthful food and they do not comport with the eating of junk.

So, protect your base. Eat foods whose tastes you enjoy. Make liberal use of culinary herbs (coriander, marjoram, basil, oregano, garlic, fennel, dill, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, turmeric, black pepper, and more). Have some plain water with a squeeze of lemon or a little apple cider vinegar. You can gradually make a shift—not go cold turkey—and eventually replace the things you once ate or drank regularly with new, better-for-you, regulars. You’ll feel better and appreciate life even more.

Remembering the Redbud-Rosy Face of Eugene Owen

Years ago, I read something by agrarian author Wendell Berry, in which he said we cannot love the whole world, simply because we cannot know the whole world.

At the time, I felt aligned with this—that I could not love all, for I could not know all. And I would still agree—I cannot know all, at least not in one lifetime. But there are patterns I can know and recognize and see similarities among, lessons that come on stronger if I haven’t learned them well the first or second or third time around.

And that is why, I feel pulled up short by the death of my friend, Eugene Owen, who people knew as Gene, but who I always called Eugene. It is also why I hope he felt the depth of my actions where words failed—where I failed to utter them. For, I loved Eugene, but we did not have the kind of relationship in which I felt I could say so.

I met him four years ago this month because he needed someone to help prep his food. He had Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, a hereditary, neuromuscular degenerative disorder that, in his case, wore away at the myelin within the neurons. It caused his fingers to curl inward, so that he could not open his hands, could not cut his food. It caused a loss of sensation in the lower limbs, necessitating braces and, in time, a powered chair. And later, it caused wasting in the thoracic region, for which he needed a tracheostomy and assistance breathing.Eugene Owen with Street Cow

When I met Eugene, he had just had surgery to remove a melanoma on the bottom of his foot. There was a large indentation, where the surgeon had removed the cancer. I was in my second year of herb school, and reading works by French herbalist Maurice Messegue and his use of foot and hand baths as a way to get herbs “in” without going the oral route, which is especially important when a person is on multiple pharmaceuticals. At one of those early follow-up appointments, I asked the surgeon if it would be okay to provide foot baths for Eugene, using infusions of yarrow. He agreed.

It was early spring and yarrow I’d planted the summer before, between the blueberries and a Montmorency cherry, had enough leaves that I felt I could ask it for its help with Eugene. I gathered a fair amount, placed it into a quart-sized Mason jar, and poured boiling water over it. At Eugene’s, I diluted the temperature with some cooler water and had him soak for about eight minutes, before toweling off the foot and applying unrefined sesame oil, then rebandaging.

The wound healed quickly. Eugene’s surgeon seemed pleased.

Once it completely healed, Eugene went back to his previous routine, making the trek from Annapolis to a metro station, getting the powered chair off the lift, then making his way into D.C., where he worked as a statistician at the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. He had a lot of independence in those days, relatively speaking. He was able to come and go pretty much as he pleased.

If he were at home when I was prepping food and he was not in a virtual meeting or on a conference call, he would talk about a great variety of things—from the news and music to bits and pieces of things he’d picked up over the years in his travels. I don’t know how many countries he had visited, but I think he set foot on every continent, except Arctic and Antarctica. He had not been to Russia, where I had lived years ago, but he had studied Russian, studied many languages, in fact, and was proficient in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Welsh, and, of course, English.

He grew up in Lancaster County, Pa., and loved rural life, studied rural sociology, and spent some time reviewing education on Smith Island. As a young man, he had worked as a postal carrier in Brooklyn Park and he sometimes recalled how robust he used to be, in terms of running and playing as a child. But as deep as was his interest in his rural surroundings, so he was also interested in the greater world and recounted last summer how he used to created worlds, maps, languages, and stories about these places, when he was a child.

He never seemed to lose that imagination, that childlike quality, despite his years, despite his illness. In fact, he credited his parents, Jack and Ruth, with what the idea of abundance really meant, how they instilled a sense of infinite gratitude in him.

People in New Age circles today, I think, take that word “abundance” for granted. Eugene did not. Whatever he did—whether he was working, whether he was conversing with a friend, whether he was eating his colorful food, even if he were coughing hard—he did everything 100 percent, and then some.EugeneOwenParisSeafood

He especially liked his food. One of his favorites—he could make a meal of this—was fresh tomatoes with marinated artichoke hearts and anchovies, plus capers and extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. He never ate a lot of sweets, liked charcuterie and seafood and Brie, Brussels sprouts and kimchi. And fresh fruit.

Eugene had not been into D.C. for a while. His car with lift no longer ran, but he got around pretty well in his powered chair, taking it a couple of miles to a commuter lot. He needed to make a meeting and was coming back late December 4, 2014, when he was struck by a man pulling out of a church parking lot. The driver did not have his lights on. Eugene pitched forward out of the chair, went slack, as he told me he always did to make a fall easier. He struck the backs of his hands and the left side of his face and forehead. At the hospital, they wanted to take an MRI, but he could not lie flat for any length of time; it was too hard to breathe.

Again, I worked with him, using a calendula-plantain salve on the bunged-up spots and arnica gel around his left eye. He had a lot of lung distress for what seemed like most of December and early January.

But the day of his appointment with his cardiologist, he told me he did not feel well. This was odd, because he never complained. And this was not a complaint, either, just a statement of fact. Because of his spiking pulse, he was admitted to the hospital that day, in late January. It felt like they had a hard time getting the meds right in order to smooth the pulse and help Eugene avoid going into atrial fibrillation.

He was there for close to four weeks, before they moved him to a nursing facility in Annapolis, one with a respiratory specialty. But Eugene seemed to plateau.

I took it for granted that he would get better, because he always appeared so resilient.

But as Oliver, the fellow who delivered oxygen canisters and the like to Eugene’s, told me when he came to pick up the rented equipment, “When it’s your time, it’s your time.”

Everyone I’d ever heard of who met Eugene liked him, without fail. He had a lot of good qualities. But he also put off important things, like writing a will and planning his estate. I find myself quite puzzled by this, given Eugene’s health issues. The only thing I can attribute the lack of action to is just living in the moment coupled with a lack of organization, which was also part of Eugene’s way of being.

Eugene died a month ago this evening. I did not know it until the next morning, when my beloved called to inform me. And I broke. I’d planned to see him later that day, to bring poems to read, to pick up an iced coffee for him; he loved those.EugeneOwen_Guadaloupe

As I consider Eugene, I accept that there truly is no complete way to measure a person—except maybe by the numbers of people he or she has touched. People are so many things and are not so many other things. What I liked and appreciate most about Eugene is how he refused to be defined by his illness. He was deeply willing to live in the moment and deeply willing to be present to his own divinity. By that willingness, he expanded his ability to see and feel others’ divinity also, and I suspect, enabled the people he knew or met briefly in his travels to see their own.

What a gift! I am so glad that he shared it.

* * *

When I last visited Eugene, Sunday, March 22, I shared several poems by Rumi, and his face lit up with each one. In honor of Eugene—and his redbud-rosy face—here’s the last poem I read to him:

The Sheikh Who Played With Children—Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks

A certain young man was asking around,
“I need to find a wise person. I have a problem.”

A bystander said, “There’s no one with intelligence
in our town except that man over there
playing with the children,
the one riding the stick-horse.

He has keen, fiery insight and vast dignity
like the night sky, but he conceals it
in the madness of child’s play.”

The young seeker approached the children, “Dear father,
you who have become as a child, tell me a secret.”

“Go away. This is not a day
for secrets.”
“But please! Ride your horse this way,
just for a minute.”
The sheikh play-galloped over.
“Speak quickly. I can’t hold this one still for long.
Whoops. Don’t let him kick you.
This is a wild one!”

The young man felt he couldn’t ask his serious question
in the crazy atmosphere, so he joked,
“I need to get married.
Is there someone suitable on this street?”

“There are three kinds of women in the world.
Two are griefs, and one is a treasure to the soul.
The first, when you marry her, is all yours.
The second is half-yours, and the third
is not yours at all.
Now get out of here
before this horse kicks you in the head! Easy now!”

The sheikh rode off among the children.
The young man shouted, “Tell me more about the kinds of women!”

The sheikh, on his cane horsie, came closer,
“The virgin of your first love is all yours.
She will make you feel happy and free. A childless widow
is the second. She will be half-yours. The third,
who is nothing to you, is a married woman with a child.
By her first husband she had a child, and all her love
goes into that child. She will have no connection with you.
Now watch out.
Back away.
I’m going to turn this rascal around!”

He gave a loud whoop and rode back,
calling the children around him.

“One more question, Master!”
The sheik circled,
“What is it? Quickly! That rider over there needs me.
I think I’m in love.”
“What is this playing that you do?
Why do you hide your intelligence so?”
“The people here
want to put me in charge. They want me to be
judge, magistrate, and interpreter of all the texts.
The knowing I have doesn’t want that. It wants to enjoy itself.
I am a plantation of sugarcane, and at the same time
I’m eating the sweetness.”
Knowledge that is acquired
is not like this. Those who have it worry if
audiences like it or not.
It’s a bait for popularity.

Disputational knowing wants customers.
It has no soul.
Robust and energetic
before a responsive crowd, it slumps when no one is there.
The only real customer is God.
Chew quietly
Your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay
playfully childish.
Your face
will turn rosy with illumination
like the redbud flowers.

Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy,
absentminded. Someone sober
will worry about things going badly.
Let the lover be.

All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reedsong. If it
fades, we fade.

Vision + Persistence = Theo Colborn, 1927-2014

Some years ago—it feels like another lifetime—I was shopping in the men’s section at JC Penney with my-then boyfriend. I was looking for a nice shirt for my brother and he was looking for slacks. It seemed as though every pair had a label stating it was “stain-resistant.”

At the time, I knew enough to know the slacks probably came equipped with Teflon, and I wondered, Who the heck would want that stuff next to their body—especially their privates—for most of any given day they wore them?

I advised him to steer clear.

That was around the time the Environmental Working Group had done some hair-sample studies around the “body burden” of chemicals, plus a study of pet birds exposed to heated nonstick pans (Teflon, again).

But it was before I’d heard of Theo Colborn.

I keep a picture of Theo Colborn on a vision board in my office. ColbornandCarsonVisionIt’s a color photo, probably taken within the last 10 years—showing her as president of TEDX—The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (not TEDx, though Colborn did one of those, too, and I urge you to watch it and, yes, send it along to the White House). On the board, she’s just to the right of another important lady—Rachel Carson. Together, they are under a pink heart, above which it says, Rejoice! and on which are the words, “For me, it’s about making a difference—every day.”

In the hustle-bustle of the holidays and our family’s grief and preparations for my sister’s memorial, I did not know until this past week that Theo Colborn had died in December—December 14. Her passing is a tremendous loss for an interdisciplinary range of sciences, policy, and communications that focuses on threats to all life by myriad chemicals that act at very low doses to disrupt hormonal signaling.

Per U.S. law (the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976), chemicals are tested at levels high enough to cause immediate harm even as the long-term and often-unseen effects of low levels go unexamined. As Colborn and coauthors Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers pointed out in Our Stolen Future, it takes very little of certain chemicals to act in utero and damage the ability of that future person to withstand illness, avoid obesity, and even to reproduce.Our_Stolen_Future

When I read anything, I read with an editor’s eyes. So, I was not quite sure what to do with a passage in Our Stolen Future in which the authors “trace” a PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) molecule from its origin in Texas, where it gets picked up as dust on the wind, to Canada, where it eventually finds its way into the body of a breastfeeding Inuit woman. The length of the passage annoyed me, but it’s one that has stuck with me, simply because of its ability to illustrate that once unleashed in the world, no one can be sure where toxics will end up—whether in the endocrine system of a just-differentiated male human fetus, the fat of a beluga whale, or manifesting as the un-parentlike behavior of a gull mother or father in the Great Lakes. One thing we can be sure of, based on research, is that these chemicals are often more harmful in their broken-down forms, which is what happens when they get metabolized by various forms of life and then bioaccumulate as they travel up the food chain.

I had a brief conversation with Colborn once when I was trying to track down Michael Gilbertson, who was included in Our Stolen Future for his research on endocrine disruptors (EDs) in those Great Lakes gulls. The research was for a nonprofit, though I don’t think they ever used the information, which is sad. They do videos and I imagine it’s hard to show EDs—which are not especially photogenic—in that medium. Still, I appreciated Colborn’s kind and prompt response to my request as well as her suggestions for other avenues to consider.

The information about endocrine disruptors is priceless for anyone who lives today and loves Earth and loves themselves, because exposures can mean the difference between wellness and suffering. It is probable that many of today’s childhood neurodevelopmental issues and childhood cancers as well as metabolic diseases, such as Type II diabetes in children and adults, are influenced by our exposures to endocrine disruptors, such as xenoestrogens and xenoandrogens that mimic and act as hormones in the body. And the earlier in fetal development these exposures take place, the worse the problems early on. (Knowing this makes it rather difficult to watch drug ads targeting men with “low T,” because I can’t help but wonder whether it’s xenoestrogens that have interfered with their ability and also because of all the warnings that accompany these underarm “solutions”…keep out of reach of children and women who could be pregnant. Yeah, I’m gonna want that in my house! NOT! And if you think I’m just picking on guys, don’t. Anything that acts as hormones and interferes with the hormonal signaling of any species deserves broad and deep scrutiny.)

But what does this knowledge yield? Especially when, when it comes down to it, we are truly “all in this together”?

We are connected by the water we drink and the air we breathe and the soils in which our food is grown. Even if the U.S. manufacturing base has imploded and moved overseas, many of the same chemicals (or worse) are used in countries where the laws are lax or nonexistent. Have no doubt: Their back yard is our back yard. And, as Colborn was exploring toward the end of her life, what time bombs are we setting off when we drill, baby, drill? Baby, indeed!

It’s easy to become a pessimist. Theo Colborn admitted she was. But hers is a good example, because she was a late bloomer of sorts, getting her doctorate in zoology at 58 (with minors in epidemiology, toxicology and water chemistry), and she never gave up. Despite our feelings of being troubled and saddened by the changes we see in the health of wildlife and the plants around us and by the humans in our midst, and even though we cannot return to a “cleaner” time, we can push Congress to update our laws.

We can forego clothes that resist things that normal clothes should not (stains, wrinkles). We can avoid using chemicals in our homes, including cleaners and fabric softeners and air fresheners. We don’t need to use harmful cosmetics on our skin or in our hair. (See the Breast Cancer Fund’s Tips for Prevention for more information.) We can ask questions, lots of them, and press people for answers. And we can, of course, pray.

Making such a shift is not easy. You can ask my beloved, who used to groan when I insisted that we needed to change the way we ate, clothed and housed ourselves, even though the ways I suggest are inconvenient. Convenience, in our “American way of life,” is a killer. Theo Colborn would probably agree.

When I heard of Colborn’s passing, I felt another wave of grief, not like what I felt around my sister, but as though someone familiar—some familiar spirit or fellow-traveler—had left us. What will all of her hard work amount to? What ripples will she continue to stimulate? What we will do to make good on all that she’s done?

Happy Transitions Year!

In Chinese medicine, every being goes through cycles of yin and yang, one mode arising as the other fades, always a little yang in the yin, a little yin in the yang. A being cannot be all one or other. YinYangAnd yet, for me, 2014 was a “yin” year, full of a delicious, nourishing inwardness, a pause that, with every passing month, became more pregnant with possibilities—an endarkened ripening, maybe like what a crystal feels as it grows within the Earth.

The year was marked by a lot of work done with a coach, especially around migraines and perceptions I’ve held—perceptions long ossified—since childhood; contact with archangels, thanks to this coach; the loss of some part-time work; the creation of possibilities for work on my own terms; and, most recently, the rather sudden death of my oldest sister, Teresa.

If I were in any frame of heart other than gratitude, I’d say that 2014 basically stunk, as far as years go. But that feels off to me. Because I’ve also grown closer to myself/my Self in this period, and I cannot think of anything more important, not just for me, but for anyone.

One of the biggest markers of change is the deeply felt, experiential knowledge that there are beings here to help us and we need not hesitate to ask. Like many people, I’ve always wanted to do everything on my own. If I couldn’t do something on my own, then there was something amiss with me. This thinking neglects certain realities, of course, namely that Renaissance-Womandom is a mighty hard, if not impossible, state to attain (at least in one lifetime), and the work involved exhausts resources that are probably better utilized in other ways. So, I’ve started to ask for help whenever I need it, whether it’s a particular physical ache or the onset of a state of mind or an encounter with activities or energies that don’t serve me or anyone else.

Something liberating there is in the asking—a reminder that I am not alone, that it is okay not to have to feel I have to know everything, be everything, do everything.

This year has also brought about greater awareness around priorities—what are mine?

I have found myself at mid-life homing in on some things I’ve always wanted to do, such as rug-hooking, but even moreso around ways I’ve wanted to exist: to embody such unconditional love that anyone around me feels safe enough just to be themselves.WoolenLeafinProcess

It is especially this feeling of unconditional love and the safety it engenders that has ticked up quite a bit in the last month, around the death of my sister, whose illness came as a shock to all her family and friends. She was an anchor for all of us, but it turns out, she was also a canary of sorts in our particular coal mine. Her death puts me on high alert: Can we create enough spaciousness within ourselves to let go of our judgments, our attachments to outcomes, so that no one ever feels paralyzed by the perception of constant scrutiny?

In that vein—and with this gift that my sister could give me maybe only with her death—I end this yin year with more questions than answers and the hope that the courses of action I take in 2015 will begin to light the path toward answers—ones that satisfy not only me, but many others as well.

How can we transmute what feels icky into love?

How can we best find peace at any time?

How can we create loving relations with all our relations—not only other humans, but also everything in, on, and around Earth itself?

How can we become adept at nonviolent communication?

How can we best practice nonviolence?

How can we set and lovingly maintain good boundaries?

How can we best tend the gardens of our thoughts and intentions?

How can we create vibrant, resilient communities?

How can we change our conception of time?

How can we best learn how to breathe in sync with Earth and with one another?

And, how can we heal the illusion we labor under that we are each and every one separate beings?

A Beautiful Death

It is a near-perfect autumn morning. The mild air offers a hybrid of drizzle and very light fog. Elder and sumac berries, ginger, cinnamon and a single clove bud simmer on the stove. Despite the despair that comes and goes in me, I feel at peace, growing calmer in the knowledge that there are few consistent processes in this life, that everything changes, maybe especially the things we think—and hope—won’t change.

Some of our neighborhood trees have already lost all their leaves, including the maples, which are duller this year than last. The ginkgoes, which tend to drop their leaves in one fell swoop, are Meyer-lemon yellow. And the beeches are cloaked in orange.

Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, takes on colors only nature can do this time of year.

Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, takes on colors only nature can do this time of year.

In our own yard, the hazelnut leaves are the first to drop and this seems a consistent pattern. The leaves of the pokeberry I refuse to dig out are more wondrously colored than anything Pantone might conceive. They range from mild yellows to bright, from deep magenta to blast-me fuscia along with a wide spectrum of greens. Speaking of greens, the chickweed is pure green, ready to pick to add to salads. Its die-back will come in late spring when the heat starts to take hold. The sweet gum that shelters the few “permaculture zone 5” woodland medicinals I planted five years ago never fails to delight this time of year. Its five-point starry leaves convert into a finery I am not able to replicate in a hooked rug I’ve been working on.

The visible parts of these plants are dying back, sending their energy underground for the next several months. And yet, at this time, they are among the most beautiful beings that capture my attention.

Chickweed, Stellaria media, doesn't comes on in the cooler temps of autumn.

Chickweed, Stellaria media, benefits from the cooler temps of autumn.

This time of year is often a time of grief for humans. We have much to mourn, not just in our personal lives, for who among us doesn’t know someone who’s died this year—many tragically too soon, though who are we to judge the timing? But the multiple stresses we feel seem to be reflected in the world “out there”—and probably will continue to be, so long as we maintain the illusion of separation between “in here” and “out there.”

Even as I have grown weary of the apparent lack of kindness that humans visit upon one another and the planet, I see, I take part in, and I hear about all sorts of gestures of kindness. But most of these are invisible, except to the beings involved. Yet, it is just these small acts that remake the world, that heal the pieces that we split off from ourselves because, for whatever reason, we are ashamed of them or we believe they do not fit or do not serve.

What are we meant to serve, anyway? What ideals? Will we let fear rule more and more of life or will we choose to help expand the consciousness of love?

As I grow more conscious of these choices, I feel I’d much rather serve the ends of love than of fear. For love says, “This way lies sanity.” And anyone who steps up for love expands others’ ability also to step up.

From deep reds to chartreuse, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) have an autumn pallete all their own..

From deep reds to chartreuse, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) have an autumn pallete all their own.

What does this love entail?

I may be overthinking this, but basically, it means embodying certain ideals in our actions—the ideals of attention, gratitude and compassion, as psychologist Timothy Miller puts forth in his book, How to Want What You Have.

Attention means noticing—noticing a sunrise or a sunset, noticing someone’s smile or frown, noticing the beauty all around us and not running away when what we feel is unpleasant—whether sadness or anger or depression. Gratitude can encompass just feeling grateful to be alive and ties into attention, in that, the more you notice and the more you allow yourself just to feel—without judging what you feel—the more grateful you feel to be alive. And compassion means practicing first compassion for ourselves: We are human, we are imperfect, so why turn up the volume on the voices that criticize? Why refit those voices, which maybe initially in our early life belonged to someone else, to make them wholly our own? Rather, it is better to acknowledge these voices—maybe they helped keep us safe at some point, but for us individually and collectively, they have become maladaptive; they no longer serve.

Once we begin to feel compassion for ourselves, that feeling ripples out to myriad others, not just humans, but the whole of the world.

In my own family, we have a consistent thread: It’s called “not good enough.”

How do our judgments, which often carry the energy of disdain, affect others?

How do our judgments, which often carry the energy of disdain, affect others?

Many other families share this same thread and maybe all of humanity does. It is why when poets and writers like William Stafford describe their families and their upbringing, I am blown away. My impression of his childhood is one where the parents behaved with deep magnanimity and this led Stafford, in my interpretation, to become the person he became—where being fully human was more important than any accolades his writing or teaching may ever have garnered. His poems reflect his sense of just being.

What has broken this “not good enough” thread for me is the realization that, as in permaculture, the solution lies in the problem. And what problem is not an artifact of the illusion of separation?

It has taken me many years, but today I feel grateful for the influence of my parents, my mother for her overall generosity, my father for planting the seed of the ideal that everything and everyone has intrinsic value—whether a rock, a dog, or a human. Neither always behaved with generosity or acted in accord with the knowledge of the intrinsic value of all things, but then again, they are human and humans are inconsistent—at least in this phase of our evolution.

The pain caused by the “not good enough” can, if we accept it and allow it, shift us into a different, more whole/holy way of being.

Our value is not based upon how productive we are, how well we might satisfy someone else’s needs. People, plants, other animals, viruses and bacteria—they all have value just because.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) flower about this time of year.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) flower about this time of year.

I know this runs counter to what is presented “out there” among various media, in workplaces, in organizations, in government. The glorious sweet gum outside exists in part just because and in part, perhaps, because a seed chose to go along with a squirrel—nature’s forester—and be planted, chose to start growing and transformed itself into a tree, along with the help of others, seen and unseen. And this tree—Liquidambar styraciflua—was preceded by 20 others in the same genus, 20 others than are physically extinct, but metaphorically live on in this genus and species.

This particular sweet gum appears to be dying, however slowly. Two-leggeds don’t much care for the pointy fruits, especially if they have lawns and the fruits fall into their yards. Maybe people’s inability to see themselves in that pointy, annoying fruit influences the tree’s ability to survive. Maybe. I know scientists would probably disregard that notion as naïve or wishful, but science, like religion, operates from a particular set of frames—an often narrow set that accounts only for what can be seen and measured. Feelings can only be felt, and I will go with my feelings—not emotions, which are different from feelings—any day.

And I feel this tree continues to choose to be generous in the way it grows, with an increase in lower-down branches that, in the last few years, have come to provide additional shade for those woodland medicinals I planted, because ideally, they would have more shade. And who can say, but this act of generosity spurs more of the same among those woodland plants, such that they are helping that sweet gum to live longer.

Recent lower-branch growth of the sweet gum gives more shade to woodland medicinals like black cohosh (Actaea racemosa).

Recent lower-branch growth of the sweet gum gives more shade to woodland medicinals like black cohosh (Actaea racemosa).

One thing I know for sure and that is that nature—our inner and outer ecologies—are ever entwined, and we can look to nature for so many life lessons, so many metaphors upon which to check ourselves. After all, we are nature and nature is us, and it is when we believe and then behave otherwise, that we court difficulties. When we aim to grow at all costs, when we desire more, more, more, we can look at nature’s tapestry and see that every year, she takes a break here and there for some months. What would our lives be like if we did so, too? Would we give death to that which no longer serves us? What would create more time for the kind of work that really matters, for the sort of care-giving that our world needs at this time?

 

 

A Soup-er Way to Preserve Summer’s Bounty

This post includes a recipe from Barb Haigwood, cofounder of Real Life Consulting, LLC.

As autumn slides into view, we are enjoying the last of summer’s fresh fruit and vegetables. Regardless of predictions for this winter’s weather, anyone who eats locally and seasonally may want to shift her kitchen into high gear now to stock up—literally!—on soups made from brightly colored tomatoes and peppers. It’ll be many moons before we see these again, whether they come from our own garden or we buy them at local farmers markets.

Here are a couple of soup recipes that we enjoy as well as a different way to preserve tomatoes. These offer an alternative to canning, are great to freeze and inspire a deep reverence for the sun—and for chlorophyll—when thawed and heated on a winter’s day for lunch or supper. Leigh’s soup, the first one, requires a large sauce pan and hand-held wand for pureeing the soup. It could also be made the way Barb makes her soups—in a Vitamix.

Golden Tomato Soup
Adapted from Katherine Ostrowski-Morris’s Golden Heirloom Or Your Favorite Tomato Soup (Katherine and husband Bill Morris farm in Shady Side, Md., and sell their produce at the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.)TomatoSoupwSourCream

13-15 medium-large yellow/orange tomatoes

2-3 medium-large yellow onions

Several cloves of garlic (I use at least four to six)

Unsalted butter

Extra virgin olive oil

Tomato paste

Basil

Marjoram

Ground black pepper

1½ to 2 quarts of stock (I use chicken or a combo of homemade chicken and beef stock, depending on what I have on-hand)

Sour cream (optional)

Chop the onions and place in large saucepan. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside (I place the fruits and all the juice in a two-quart glass bowl until I’m ready to use them). Peel and press the garlic cloves. If using fresh basil, wash and shred the leaves into smaller pieces.

Add some butter and olive oil to the onions, stirring occasionally and cooking until translucent. Next, add the garlic, three soup-spoons of the paste and the culinary herbs and black pepper. Unless an herb is super-strong-tasting, I tend just to put the herb in, adding more later if the soup seems to need more. (I love basil, marjoram and black pepper, so I don’t skimp on these.) Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Next, add the tomatoes and all the juices. Again, stir to incorporate everything. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes before adding the stock. How much stock depends on the consistency you want—more for thinner, less for thicker. Allow all of this to simmer for about 20 minutes. Next, add salt to taste and using a hand-held cooking wand, puree the soup. Taste, and add more salt if needed.

When ready to serve, swirl in a spoon of sour cream.

Barb’s Alternative to Canning Tomatoes
If you are not in the mood for canning or don’t have time, this is a good way to preserve tomatoes. I took extra tomatoes, cut off the bad spots, but left on the skin, and gently squeezed them to take out some of the liquid, which I saved for vegetable soup. I then put the tomatoes into the Vitamix and ran it on high until the tomatoes were completely smooth. I placed the tomatoes into a pot and cooked them down to the consistency I wanted—about two hours. I then put this in the refrigerator until the next day to cool, then transferred to quart-sized containers to freeze. This can be used as the base for anything that needs tomato puree.

Barb’s Tomato SoupBarbsTomatoSoup

One quart of tomato puree

1 cup chicken or turkey broth

1 onion, chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

Fat of your choice, such as lard

¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour (required, if you want a thick soup)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon of sucanat or honey

Fresh basil, finely chopped, or shredded, if you prefer

Sour cream

Thaw the tomato puree and warm together with the stock. Add to the Vitamix. Sautee onions and celery in fat (I use lard) until tender, then melt the butter into the onion and celery. Add the flour, if desired, and stir until blended. Add this to the Vitamix. Add salt and pepper to taste and one tablespoon of sucanat or honey. Blend all of this in the Vitamix on high until hot.

This soup may be added to a bowl of cooked rice or rice pasta. Finish with basil and sour cream.

Munching in Your Neighborhood?

This past weekend, a herd of 35 male, mixed-breed goats held a feast in our neighborhood near Annapolis.

Forester Brian Knox, of Sustainable Resource Management, Inc., who oversees Eco-Goats, brought the goats in late Friday afternoon from Philly, where they’d be on another munchfest, and came to pick them up early Sunday morning. He set up an inside perimeter of electronet fencing and then cordoned that, a few feet away, with an orange construction-site fence and posted signs about the electric fence as well as the purpose of the goats.EcoGoatsinAction

In about 36 hours, the goats had munched through poison ivy, English and Irish ivy, and other kinds of vines, and de-leafed wine berry canes. They also ate small shrubs and saplings and began to de-bark certain trees, such as ornamental pear and mulberry.

More than two years ago, the community association had had the area sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup). I asked Knox about this and he said that will not bring in goats where areas have been sprayed within a year. When he looked at our site this past spring, he could see evidence of some spray, but not so much that he felt it would be a problem for the goats.

“I don’t want to eat stuff that’s been sprayed,” he said. “And I don’t want the goats to, either.”

Before the goats came, we could not see through the small patch of woods to homes on the other side of the court. Now, most of the vegetation is cleared as are the sight lines—with the exception of low-lying vinca, which the goats do not seem to like.

Maybe the coolest thing about the goats was the attention they drew and conversations between neighbors who seldom see one another or, despite having lived in the same neighborhood for 15-plus years, don’t ever talk. Adults seemed to be as fascinated as children by all of the goats and their never-full stomachs.

When Knox came Sunday morning to retrieve the goats and bring them to their next stop in Queen Anne’s, I was sad to see them go. I was in awe that they could, say, reach up to a low-hanging holly branch and pluck off a leaf and gobble it up without choking.

I hope we’ll see the goats again in other areas of our neighborhood. I would rather have them—and their fertility in the form of droppings—than sprays any day.