Year of the Bird

The first time I witnessed a Bald Eagle magically swooping through the sky was over the Ausable River in Upper Michigan in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I was with my Dad visiting my grandparents, who were so excited to take us to see the nest way up on top of a huge tree.  They explained that Bald Eagles were making a comeback after years of near extinction due to DDT and other pesticides. We weren’t allowed to get near the nest due to federal regulations that protected the beautiful bird to help with breeding and raising their babies. Federal regulations eventually brought back the Bald Eagles and other birds.

I remember being horrified that something so magnificent had ever been in danger. Shortly after witnessing that, I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (I love this recent Jill Lepore article about her!) and I’ve had a life-long, on-going, back-and-forth obsession in my head for the last 30 years about environmental and animal issues. Our collective human apathy amazes me.

The birds that make a regular appearance in my urban, So-Cal neighborhood are Nutall woodpeckers, a Red-Shouldered hawk couple (Sean’s fave), American crows (my fave), Northern mockingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, Black Phoebes, purple finches, sparrows, and doves. We also have a pair of squawking parrots that are breeding and multiplying at a staggering pace and some lucky people have chicken clucking loudly in their yards. A few weeks ago, at the estuary near us, we spotted Great egrets, a Snowy egret, osprey and a lone flamingo that escaped from somewhere. Our neighborhood is 1000x better because of all the birds that reside in it.

National Geographic & the Audubon declare this the Year of Bird. It is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which has protected birds as they migrate for 100 years. Like so many other important policies (66 Environmental Rules on the Way out under Trump), this one is threatened under the current administration. Several articles remind us that if the new amendment had been in effect when the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, B.P. would not have had to spend millions of dollars to clean up where the birds live.  If you care about this – take some SUPER simple online actions here. Literally takes 5 minutes.

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Image credits: Daniel Biber/lensculture This photo is INCREDIBLE! Like a murmuration of Starlings we need to keep organizing.

I’m finding myself able to get lost in books again lately. And I’m so grateful for the escape they have always offered me.

Reese Witherspoon has a book club and her picks are pretty good. I zipped through Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (suburban drama) and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (love story). Both of the books are fast reads that are perfect, escapist beach or weekend reading. I LOVED Celine by Peter Heller – it’s a detective story with an older, refined, sassy female in the lead role who travels from NYC to Yellowstone to solve a decades long mystery. Heller writes beautifully about nature and humanity (Dog Stars is even better than this, but you need to be okay with apocalyptic books to pick it up).

Books that have a small supernatural element in them are my favorite (Time Traveler’s Wife, anything by Alice Hoffman or David Mitchell). Eternal Life by Dara Horn is about a woman who has been alive for centuries and has watched generations of her family live and die. The book explores the “gift” of dying and the gift of being alive. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows four siblings who are told the date that they will die by a gypsy when they are in elementary school. Each chapter follows one of the siblings and the impact that this has on their life. I couldn’t put this book down! Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin  is a super-small, one-sitting book about our inability to protect children or others. This book (surprisingly) killed it in the Tournament of Books this year! It’s an environmental horror story that is creepy and weird and lingers long after the book is put down.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is a story about female friendship, animation, drugs & drinking, trying to escape your past, and making art out of your life (and who that effects). Super good book. I’m currently reading Oprah’s latest pick, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It explores our racist legal system, being black in America, marriage, independence, and so much more. The writing  and story are perfect.

Other stuff I’m reading & thinking about…

This article by Kim Stanley Robinson about population and how we can all live on Earth, and this article by Jeff Vandermeer on Cli-Fi.

Huge upsets this year in the Tournament of Books! I’m also following The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks on Food 52.

Excited for the Great American Read.

We’ve been watching a lot of creepy Twilight Zone-like anthology TV shows lately. My fave episodes are Black Mirror – San Junipero, Black Mirror – Hang the DJ, and almost all of the episodes of Amazon’s Electric Dreams. I try not to watch them before bed because they are nightmare inducing.

On Being Podcast with guest Naomi Shihab Nye –  I swooned when she stated “You are living in a poem.” Most of the On Being Podcasts are great (love the Mary Oliver) and make me feel better when I’m losing hope or feel disconnected.

I love this blog post by Ann Patchett about her stepfather.

So far away but…Barbara Kingsolver and Kate Atkinson have new books coming out in the Fall!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hummingbird

A hummingbird (an “Anna’s Hummingbird” to be exact) built a nest outside of our living room window a few weeks ago.  You could pass by the nest a hundred times and not see it. The nest is a teeny tiny fragile collection of spiderwebs and twigs that could easily be crushed by a human hand. For a few weeks, all of the leaves were missing from the tree, and the tan nest blended in with the branches.  The hummingbird mama rotated about 90 degrees every 30 seconds and her head constantly looked around. The only time she stopped moving is when we passed by the nest on our way out the door. Like a mannequin, she stayed still to blend into the branches.

We had 6 solid days of miserable weather about 2 weeks ago. Windy, stormy, rainy, hail. It was non-stop and the worst weather week I remember in the time that we’ve lived in San Diego. The mama sat on that tree branch, moving in the wild wind, all through those long days and nights of rain. We were so worried about her and debated building something to cover her up. Every morning we expected her to be gone, yet she remained.

We think the chicks were born on my birthday. Her behavior changed and all of a sudden she was poking her long beak into the nest. We’ve spotted the chicks (2!!) several times, and every day they get bigger & bigger. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The tree that she lives in just bloomed a bright white amazing blanket of flowers (although they stink like chlorine because it is a Callery pear tree). Her nest seems to be more protected now – the blooms, the babies, and the mama are all making me hopeful that it’ll be okay. I really hope it will.

It’s been a rough couple weeks with an ignorant, corrupt tyrant in charge. The hummingbird was a gift. We’re madly in love with her and will miss her so much when she is gone.

 

For more on hummingbirds, I love this article by Barbara Kingsolver.

I just finished Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days on the War on Drugs by Johann Hari– it blew my mind over and over again. It is a fascinating book about the war on drugs. Infuriating, mind-blowing, astounding. I am re-thinking so much after reading it.

One of the most interesting parts of the book are the descriptions of Harry Anslinger – the first “drug czar” of the U.S. Hari writes: “The drug war was born in the United States – but so was the resistance to it. Right at the start, there were people who saw the drug war was not what we were being told. It was something else entirely…Harry Anslinger wanted to make sure we would never put these pieces together.” Also, they “worked hard to keep the country in a state of panic on the subject of drugs so that nobody would ever again see the logical contradictions” (sound familiar?) and the first drug czar would snap “I’ve made up my mind – don’t confuse me with facts.”

Hari uncovers so much of the hypocrisy and heartbreak of the drug war. I love this: “It is no longer: How do we stop addiction through threats and force, and scare people away from drugs in the first place? It becomes: How do we start to rebuild a society where we don’t feel so alone and afraid, and where we can form healthier bonds? How do we build a society where we look for happiness in one another rather than in consumption?”

Read the book all the way to the end. The last few paragraphs bring the hypocrisy of the “war” on drugs all together.

I read another Alice Hoffman book, Faithful. As always, it is a solid read with lots of animals, heartbreak, and 2nd chances.

I LOVED Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel Here I Am – I have always been a huge Foer fan. Eating Animals was life-changing for me and the rest of his books have broke my heart. His latest is about a family falling apart while the Middle East is also falling apart. Deep, beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking.

And I finished the Tearling series with Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. It is not a great ending to the series – but, it’s okay and still an interesting series that thinks about utopia, religion, power, magic. This line resonates: “He’s scared of everything…it makes him easy to manipulate…entire countries would close their borders and build walls to keep out phantom threats. Can you imagine?”

More good reading:

Upcoming books on Huff Post – I can’t wait to read Saunders books!

And I’m pretty terrified about America right now. This article in the Guardian on the writers who imagined a fascist future hit me hard.

Finally, reading is cool. And the coolest people do it. Love this article.

 

READ: Susan Ager

Growing up we had a subscription to the Detroit Free Press that was delivered 7 days a week. Before school I’d skim the headlines and read the comics –  but, the real reason to read the paper was the LIFE section where 2 or 3 days a week there would be a column by Susan Ager (yes, the Free Press also has Mitch Albom – but believe me, Ager’s column topped his!). Ager wrote for the Free Press for about 16 years, and I’m sure I read at least 80% of her columns.

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I have about 12 Ager columns that have traveled with me over the last 10-15 years. They are columns that I’ve shared with other people, or that were sent to me by family members in Michigan after I moved to California. For many years, family conversations would involve the words “Did you read the Susan Ager column about…”

Ager opened up my mind many, many times as I was growing up. She wrote passionately about marriage equality in the 1990’s before it was a conversation that people were regularly having. She introduced me to my climate hero, Bill McKibben, with a column she wrote about his awesome (and somewhat controversial) book “Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families.” I’ve seen McKibben speak multiple times and I’ve read everything he writes. I wonder when I would have learned about him if she had not brokered the introduction.

I also partly thank Ager for my love of poetry, particularly the poems of Jane Kenyon. In 1995 she wrote a column (Simple life’s end stirs words of loss) that my Aunt Nanc loved about Kenyon and her untimely death from cancer. My Aunt Nanc asked me to send her the full book of poetry (which I read before putting in the mail) and since then I have read her poems over and over. Here’s a few if you are interested: Let Evening Come, Otherwise, Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer, and After an Illness, Walking the Dog.

I also think that Ager introduced me to Wendell Berry, but I can’t remember the specific column for that. Overall, her columns explored our shared humanity, the small kindnesses that people are capable of, and a strong appreciation of nature and a simple life with everyday pleasures. This morning I stood in a pounding hot shower looking out the high window at the clouds changing from light blue to dark violet to bright, hot pink as the sun rose. A group of over a 100 crows passed by, squawking and joyful. A great way to start the day, and a simple pleasure that I fully appreciated. I thought to myself that Susan Ager could write an entire column about this one moment.

In a 2003 column titled A man who just can’t live on $145,000 Ager opens with “Last month, while Republicans scrambled to prove they’re not racists, a man named Nicholas Calio was able to quietly quit his White House job for a god-awful reason. He was George W. Bush’s liaison with Congress. He earned $145,00 a year. And he told reporters he had to quit because “I can’t pay my bills.” Ager then goes on to ponder how a person can not live on $145,000/year and the utter absurdity of it.

After George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 her column (Day after big mess brings fear, hope) began with “My first thoughts the morning after: Congratulations George W. Bush. The mess you’ve made remains yours to clean up. The mess in Iraq is yours. The deficit mess is yours. The health care mess is yours…”  Her frustration with so-called “moral values” is evident throughout the column.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Susan Ager lately because I wish she was writing during this insane election. We need her clear, reasonable voice over the coming years. It’s amazing how someone I have never met can mean so much to me.

To read some of Ager’s best-loved column, check out her website here.

Lately, all I want to read is escapist fiction -here’s some good stuff…

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler- A well-written novel injected with pieces of poetry about the restaurant industry, New York City, and being young and naive. Juicy and a little scandalous.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond – This may have been my favorite book of the year and I read it in one day. It’s a love story. It’s an environmental warning. It’s main character is a woman researcher. And there are penguins…go read it.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – A tragic plane crash occurs with 2 survivors and lots of questions about what happened. A great read (with the caveat that the ending is not the best part of the book).

The Nest by Cynthia Sweeney – Family drama involving an inheritance.

I read this little story by Ted Chiang (author who wrote the story that ended up being the movie Arrival) the other day. I loved it – maybe you will too?

This interview with Anthony Bourdain is precisely why I love watching his show Parts Unknown.

This interview with Megyn Kelley on Fresh Air is the best podcast I have listened to in a long time. She is eloquent and strong and impressive. Unbelievable that the man who bullied her is now going to be our President.

READ: Dept of Speculation by Jenny Ofill + More

In a poetry class at college the professor told all of us that he only read poems because he was too old to read long novels. He said he could get the same impact in a few verses, so why spend days or weeks reading one book. I did not understand him then, but I think I do now.

I will probably always love a long novel that sweeps me up and leaves me unable to do anything except lay on the couch and read, however, short prose becomes sweeter all the time. Jenny Ofill’s short, short novel (or novella?) “Dept of Speculation” is crushingly beautiful and I finished it in about an hour.

I don’t like stories about infidelity. They piss me off and are usually full of tired clichés. But I am so glad I gave this story a chance. Don’t let descriptions of this indescribable book stop you from reading it! “Dept of Speculation” reads like a writing experiment with unnamed characters, odd pacing, quotes and literary morsels, and shifts between points of view, but it all comes together to create a portrait of a life with all its icky quirks and horrible junctures and the beautiful, heart-stopping moments that sustain us.

This story about love, middle age, marriage, having a kid, being an artist, living in the city, anxiety, and then the tired old story about an infidelity is hard to explain, but it is a great literary experience. Ofill scatters literary references throughout – Rilke (who I have cherished since I was 21 when the poetry professor mentioned above assigned him), Keats, Yeats, Kafka, Herodotus, Berryman…she also weaves in scientific facts and snippets of stories. She relays the love story of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan, I’ve heard Ann’s version of their romance on Radiolab, but of course, there is more to their story than just one version.

I experienced this novel twice – I read the book, and then I listened to it on CD, where the author reads it beautifully (I had them both reserved at the library, and they came in at the same time). I recommend listening to the audio version if possible. Either way you experience it, enjoy getting swept away in the beauty of her pacing and unique writing.

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Another unique piece that I can’t stop thinking about is the movie “Boyhood.” I think I have told everyone to watch the movie. It made my heart hurt over and over again.

I’m sure you’ve heard the original premise of “Boyhood” – director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over 12 years with the same actors. An incredible feat considering the young boy in the movie was only 6 when filming started, he stuck with it over 12 years and remained a talented actor throughout. The movie is edited together so that it is a collection of little moments, and the only way to tell that time is passing is from the appearance of the actors, particularly the children. The soundtrack in the movie (which is fantastic!!) also helps viewers note the passing years.

There is not a lot of plot in the movie, instead it is a collection of all of the small snapshots of time, the tiny epiphanies that shape who we become. At the end, especially after a powerful moment between the mom and her son, viewers are left shattered by the fleetingness of time and our inability to fully appreciate all the beautiful, and sometimes horrible, things that shape our lives.

“Boyhood” hits close to home – the film portrays a normal American family, which is not a so-called traditional family. Like the children in the movie, my sisters and I have two parents who loved us and wanted the best for us, but they couldn’t stay together. My sisters and I have a unique bond because we experienced these moments together, although, of course, we each remember different moments and experiences. It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world when families separate (and then re-create), but it often creates complicated situations and it shapes who we become.

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 Fun links:

Top 10 Food Books of 2014

13 World Food Predictions for 2015…it includes pot pesto – fun!

Life: Ruby, Story #2

Part One is HERE.

So, we found out Ruby could die if another bee stung her. In our yard we have a huge, beautiful rosemary plant that blooms with purple buds nonstop. Bees love that freaking bush, and it is our nemesis. We rent, believe me, if we owned our house that bush would have been yanked out the minute we found out about the bee allergy. San Diego has blooming flowers, and bees, year round. Avoiding bees can be a full time job…

IMG_1028We were told by multiple vets that the only thing that we could do if Ruby was stung again was to bring her immediately to a vet. That answer made us angry and feel completely helpless. Anaphylaxis can kill in a very short time, and the closest emergency vet, without traffic, is about 15 minutes away.

About 2 months after the bee sting incident I was in a yoga class, and the receptionist came in and whispered to me that my husband was on the phone, and it was an emergency. I ran to the phone and Sean told me to pick him and Ruby up from the park, he thought she’d been stung by a bee because she would not get up. As soon as I arrived, I started breathing easier because I knew that Ruby was not in the middle of anaphylactic shock because she jumped in the car and her tail was wagging.

To be safe and because she was acting a little weird (and Sean still felt really nervous), we took her to the nearest vet, which ended up being total kismet. The vet was about to close, but we explained the situation and they let us in. The calmest, gentlest vet I have ever met listened as I explained to him that we were freaking out taking Ruby outside because of the bees. He fully understood our concerns, and he proceeded to give me an injection kit of epinephrine for Ruby. He measured it out, put it in 2 needles, and then he made me practice giving Ruby an injection. He told us to make sure we carried it everywhere that we went, to always carry gel benadryl tablets (they dissolve faster), and to take a deep breath before doing the injection. I’m not writing the vet’s name down because he is retired now (he retired about a week after we met him, but I’ve emailed with him several times) and because a lot of vets tell you not to use an epipen on your dog.

Having the needles made us a feel a little better. We stopped worrying quite as much. And then, on an early Saturday morning walk, with Ruby smelling like skunk from her run-in a few days before and me jet-lagged from arriving from South Korea the previous night, Ruby lifted up her paw and stopped walking. We were over a mile from our house. We knew almost immediately that she had stepped on a bee because she had a terrified look on her face, and damn it, we did not have the freaking bee kit with us. We debated for about a minute about what to do, and then Sean started running to the house to grab the car and the bee kit.

Once again, I watched Ruby fall apart. Her eyes glazed over, she threw up, and she did not move. Sean runs fast and incredibly he picked us up in about 7 minutes…it felt like forever. I knew I was going to have to inject Ruby with the epinephrine and I braced myself for his arrival. The reason a lot of vets will not give clients epipens is because it can causes paralysis if injected wrong. Scary stuff.

By the time we got Ruby in the car she was almost comatose and barely breathing. Poo started coming out of her (in our brand new car…but whatever), her gums were turning blue, and her eyes were barely open. I thought she was dead. As Sean drove (breaking every traffic rule), I took the scruff of Ru’s neck and injected the vial into her. She gasped, opened her eyes, and I could hear little teeny tiny breaths coming out of her. I tried to stay calm and I repeated over and over that she was a good girl because I did not want her last minutes on Earth to be full of terror and sobs. Once again the emergency vets met us with a stretcher in the parking lot…

I did not think Ruby would make it through this one. I thought they would come out and tell us that she had died. Somehow, the tough little girl survived again.

Most of us have experienced traumatic situations where instinct takes over and things happen in slow motion. The horror and ugliness of the events generally don’t hit until after, and then it is all that you can think about.

Here’s a short list of things that changed after the 2nd bee sting:

  • Always locating the nearest vets before we travel with Ru (and not traveling with her if noIMG_0383 vets are nearby)
  • No more hiking in canyons, trails, or anywhere it would be hard to get a car to
  • Avoid parks where we had previously played fetch (too much clover)
  • Walks before sunrise/after sunset
  • Always walking Ru together so one of us could get the car if needed (she refuses to walk with just one of us now)
  • We tried making Ruby wear booties (not very successful, it made her pretty angry)
  • We did not take Ruby outside if only one of us was at the house
  • Ruby became terrified of things that fly by her (I am sure it is because she watched us freak out)
  • The beach became our safe place
  • Always, always carrying a bee kit and cash in case we had to offer a stranger money to drive us to a vet

We’ve learned from vets that a lot of people euthanize their dogs who have bee reactions like Ruby. Obviously, that option never crossed our minds, but the stress, and the expense of it, is intense.

Part #3, and how we’ve been dealing with the bee allergy coming up…

 

 

LIFE: Ruby, Story #1

I am not over-exaggerating when I say that Ruby has almost died AT LEAST 5x in her 4.5 short years. Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for her. This dog has a good life, and like all animals she has a story. I’m thankful her story is wrapped up in mine.

A few weeks ago I read an article about Dr. Martin Blaser and it made me think a lot about the risks vs rewards of science. Blaser’s research focuses on missing microbes because of antibiotics. An article on the NPR website states:

We have had antibiotics since the mid-1940s — just about as long as we have had the atomic bomb, as Dr. Martin J. Blaser points out — and our big mistake was failing long ago to appreciate the parallels between the two. Antibiotics have cowed many of our old bacterial enemies into submission: We aimed to blast them off the planet, and we dosed accordingly. Now we are beginning to reap the consequences. It turns out that not all germs are bad — and even some bad germs are not all bad.

Blaser believes that antibiotics in young children can cause a gut imbalance of the positive bacteria which may cause a susceptibility to severe allergies. Our overuse of antibiotics, one of the very best discoveries of the 20th century, causes repercussions that are slowly emerging.

For the last few years, I have been 100% convinced that Ruby, our wonderful, crazy, weird lovebug of a dog has horrible allergies because she had 4 courses of antiobiotics in her first 8 months of life. Reading about this research confirmed my suspicions.

As a newly adopted rescue puppy, Ruby came to us with severe giardia and stomach issues. At night, I would fall asleep wondering if she would be alive in the morning. We were at the vet every other week trying to get her fixed – luckily, we had a fantastic vet who assured us that we would get her healthy. It became our mission to cure her. We tried many, many things – among them antibiotics. We gave her antibiotics to cure the giardia 2x. The first dose didn’t work, the 2nd one worked a little better. We gave her another dose of antibiotics after she was spayed. And we gave her a 4th dose after more stomach issues caused her to have blood in her poo.

After the last dose of antibiotics did not fully cure her belly aches, at 8 months old, we had Ruby tested for food allergies. The test cost about $300 – it was worth every penny, because it showed strong reactions to poultry, peas, peanut butter, potatoes, wheat, and eggs. These were all the foods we had been feeding her while she was on antibiotics. Although her food allergies were severe, we were glad to know that there may be finally something that we could do to help her get better.

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We changed her food, and Ruby slowly got better. She gained weight and after a super stressful first year, she finally became healthy. We don’t know if it was the antiobiotics, or she started growing out of her ailments, or the food switch to avoid allergens, or the probiotics we added her to her food (she still gets them), or all the love and snuggles we gave her. In reality, it was probably a combination of different things.

About 2.5 years ago we found out that Ruby’s allergies weren’t just limited to foods.

One Sunday night at dusk, Ruby was running around the yard, and then she was running sideways like she was drunk. I told her to come in the house because she was acting like a nut – she ran in, jumped on the couch and peed all over it. Her eyes were unfocused and she looked terrified. She started towards the door, and poo & vomit came out of her, and then she collapsed. We had NO idea what happened.

We picked up her limp body, put her in the car, and raced to the emergency room vet. The 15 minute drive took forever. Sean drove, while I sat in the hatchback with Ruby in my lap. She was barely breathing, with blueish lips, and cold limbs. We called the vet on the way, and they were waiting for us with a stretcher to rush her into the operating room. After 10 minutes of anxious waiting, we learned that Ruby had been stung by a bee (in her mouth) which caused anaphylactic shock. In dogs, anaphylaxis manifests itself by shutting down the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. It is not pretty.

After we found out what happened and that she would be okay, I started shaking and crying and had a hard time pulling myself together. Ruby had to stay overnight at the vet, but before we left her, we went to see her in the back. She looked at us, snuggled into my hands, and thumped her tail a few times to let us know she’d be okay. Heartbreaker.

Bees are everywhere. We noticed this immediately after we got home. The vet told us that each time she got stung the reaction would be worse. Sean and I were terrified.

I’ll write about what happened next in a few days, but honestly, it is hard to write about. I am superstitious about Ruby. Ruby has days when she is moody and bratty, but even on those days I am overwhelmed with love for her.

I’ll wonder for my entire life if the antibiotics caused all of the allergies. And I’ll wonder if they saved her life when she was a sick pup. And what would I do if given a do-over…

Meat and Antibiotic Use: Reason #10940503403534950 not to eat meat is HERE 

LIFE: Urban Gardening

I have failed at my multiple attempts at gardening in a rental near a canyon that is full of skunks, foxes, coyotes, and gophers. However, I won’t give up, and one of these days I’ll have a garden again. For now, I get to enjoy the wonderful garden that my friends, Megan and Jon, have cultivated in their front yard. I posted about the garden, and a yummy dinner that we made on one of my most favorite blogs…Vegenista.

Click here to read the guest post.

Kale

 

The pictures above and all the pictures in the post are by the ultra-talented Megan Morello. Check out her work at laluzphoto.net