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The Nest

May the nest always be sacred and protected 

10×20″ acrylic on canvas

Birth

 

 

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24×36″ acrylic on canvas

Sometimes it takes a tribe to birth a child.

And so She was born, a jade egg, still in her amniotic sack after 60 hours of labor

The death of Girl and the Birth of Mother, The Creator

 

Honey Bees arrive!

Yesterday Parker and I went to go pick up our first two packages of honey bees! We had everything all set up at home. We had assembled all the frames, putting pure beeswax foundation in them, I had painted all hive boxes with 2 clear coats of un tinted paint and we had chosen a spot for the hives, ten or so feet north out my tiny house, where they would be in easy site, but out of any direct line of human traffic. We have 4 hives, as we are picking up two more nucs in a few weeks, so we set up two with entrances facing east and two with entrances facing south. Three of the hives are up on cinderblocks and one is just on a pallet as we ran out of cinder blocks. And our hive suits and bee tools were ready, with a smokers waiting to be lit.

The only thing we didn’t have was sugar for making sugar water if we had to feed the Bees. I had mixed feeling about feeding the bess sugar water made from cane sugar. I do my best not to eat cane sugar, and when I do I feel my body react strongly, feeling sluggish, often getting a sore throat, and sometimes breaking out with painful canker sores inside my mouth. How could I give my precious bees something that seems so processed and unhealthy?

So I had spoken to a some more experienced bee keepers and done some research. Could I feed them honey instead? Well, the downside of feeding them honey is that honey can also carry diseases from other bees. And if it is pasteurized honey the process of heating it can actually create Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a product of breaking down fructose, and something that is toxic to the bees. For the same reason maple syrup is not recommended because it has been heated to boil off all the water and hence has lots of HMF! Sigh… so it sounds like cane sugar really is the best option IF you have to feed your bees anything. Unless you can get honey from a known source, perhaps still in the frame, from a colony you know is healthy and thriving.

So on our way to go get our bees we stopped at the local food coop and bought a bag or organic 100% pure cane sugar to have just in case we felt the bees needed more food due to poor weather for foraging. Turns out we still messed up here! As I made some sugar syrup, following the 2:1 sugar to water ratio that is recommended using only warm but not boiling water so as to avoid creating HMF, I found I was creating a dark syrup, the color of caramel. Was my water too hot despite my precautions and was a caramelizing the sugar?

It turns out that what we call brown sugar, and most organic cane sugars are made by evaporation of cane sugar syrup, done through a process of heating, which keeps added minerals etc. in the sugar making it more “healthy” than white table sugar, but is also means there is more HMF in the sugar! And so it is not recommended for the bees! Alas, despite my best intentions I had still managed to get the wrong kind of sugar! This sugar, with HMF and a high particulate matter content (aka mineral impurities) would give my precious bees Honey Bee Dysentry. So turns out I will be making another trip to the store today, to Wegmans, not my local food coop, to see if they have plain white table sugar. The lesson I learned: you want the syrup that you feed your bees to be clear, not dark, free from particulate matter and HMF, so basically the only option I have heard so far is pure white table sugar.

All that being said though, at least a few beekeepers I spoke too have said they think most people overfeed their honey bees. Honey bees are generally pretty good at feeding themselves as long as they can find some nectar sources and the beekeeper doesn’t take too much honey from them! So, my plan: to have some white table sugar on hand to feed them in case I get nervous and feel they need it, but to, as much as possible trust nature to take its course or for the bees to feed themselves. And to not take too much honey from them!

Other than the hiccup with buying the wrong kind of sugar, and pulling the cork off the wrong end of the queen cage so she was immediately released rather than having to eat her way out through the candy plug, the installation went pretty smoothly! And Parker and I have been like new parents going outside every chance we get, just to “check on the bees,” watching them fly about and begin their work!

It seems both hives started using their upper entrances in the inner cover (what are generally called the escape entrance) rather than the main entrance at the bottom of the hives. Although this isn’t ideal we were told it is ok. But next time to try and prevent this from happening we will probably put the package opening face down to encourage the bees to go down, and may put the queen in one of the lower hive boxes also to encourage the bees to go down and start using the lower entrance.

We were also a little surprised by the amount of activity that we saw almost right away in the first hive we installed! Was everything ok? were the bees in distress? Had they lost their queen that had escaped the cage? But a fellow bee keeper assured us that they were probably just taking an orienting flight, which is one of the first things they do, to figure out where they are. He said the second hive should also start doing that but perhaps they are just responding a little differently, to the transition, which is fine. My theory? Because in the second hive the queen was still in her cage they were perhaps more focused on getting her out and clustering around her. While the already released queen may have already been giving orders to go forage so they can start building their new home! I also think the fact that we smoked both packages but then left the second package for a bit may have caused them to settle in more to their “fire” response, which is to go deeper into their hive and gorge on honey, or whatever food source they have – in this cause the sugar water can that they came with.

So anyway, there is a snapshot of the first day with the honey bees! A look outside this morning showed them already out and about foraging. I can’t wait to open the hive up in a couple days and see what progress they have made, and make sure all is truly well!

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SculptingEarth on Etsy

Guess what! I now have an Etsy store.

Check it out:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/SculptingEarth

And check back for more products coming soon….

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24″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas

Turtle Island

Mother Turtle watches and sees all.

Will we take care of her?

As she offers her back as fertile land

For our creations

She is the Mother of all.

May we honor her in our creations.

Remember.

 

It was really only a few short years ago that I was reading blogs about others living simple, off the grid lives. It was a dream, with parts romanticized but also parts feared. Could I really do that?

But now I am doing that. And I am blessed to have a community of people around me also doing that in their own similar and unique ways. And I love it. Sitting here on this below freezing day, with the wind whipping around outside, I am cozy inside my tiny house at a comfortable 75 degrees, in a tank top and what I call my Aladdin pants,  reflecting on a life that I know is uniquely blessed, and yet that sometime I forget is not what most of the world calls normal yet.

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Mayu, out in the snow, on a clear winters day.

What is this life I am talking about? For me is is a life where my electricity comes from the sun, a little wood stove keeps me warm, I poop in a 5 gallon bucket which I empty every few days into a compost bin, and I carry in my water, using generally no more than 4 gallons a day, for drinking, dishes, hand washing, and cooking.

You might say, wow, that life is not for me. But let me tell you of all the beauty and luxury that I also have, and how these simple systems have worked out for me. In this post I am going to focus on heat and my wood stove and its performance, but keep your eye out for future posts on pooping in a 5 gallon bucket, living with off grid solar, and living without running water.

First, the warmth! The beautiful, guilt free, cozy warmth of a wood stove heated house! I do not like the cold, and so I keep my little house at a comfortable 70-90 degrees fahrenheit. Yes, that is right, because I like to wear my sundresses inside through the cold New York winters! Parker, my partner, says one of his favorite things about Mayu is being able to sleep on top of the covers, even on the coldest days- something he can not achieve in his old, drafty, downtown apartment, even with the petroleum powered heat blasting. I have truly been blown away by my little Little Cod Marine stove. Choosing a heat source for a tiny house  is something I and many tiny house builders agonize over. It is still a niche market and information is hard to find, but I could not be happier with my choice.

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My beautiful Little Cod, giving off its radiant heat

For those who are perhaps trying to make a similar choice here is a bit about my process and why I am so so happy with the choice I made.

I knew from the beginning I wanted to heat with wood. I love the smell of a wood heated house, the unbeatable quality of warmth that they give off, and the ambiance that real fire creates. It is a primal thing, I believe, something wired into us that we have been doing since the beginning of time: making fire and gathering around fire, cooking, singing, sharing stories, warming our toes.

But I had my worries too. Would everything in my house freeze if I left for an 8 hour work day and the stove went out? Would the ash and the wood be too messy in my little house? Would I be able to find a stove that didn’t take up too much space but provided enough heat for my little house? Would it be too much heat and would I cook myself out of my little house? Well, this first winter has been a good trial, and here is what I found out.

First, my house holds heat incredible well! So my fear of things freezing has proven unwarranted. The care I took both to insulate, but particularly to air seal was well worth it! My house is NOT drafty. Unlike many friends who I hear say how they can really feel the difference on a windy day, my house stays just as warm on a still day as on a windy day. And yet it also seems to breath, as I have experienced no moisture problems despite not using any mechanical ventilation system. I accredit this to a few particular details: Taping all plywood sheathing seams with zip tape, using Mento airtight but vapor open house wrap, using Roxul insulation bats in my wall cavities and Roxul boards as an exterior wrap, and taping not only the exterior window flanges but also the interior of my windows with Tescon Vana tape. All this means that my house holds heat! This winter my house was often vacant for weeks at a time, yet only three times have I come home to find anything frozen, and that was only in the bathroom, which tends to be a bit colder than the rest of the house, and 2 out of the 3 times it was just thin films of ice, not frozen solid. In the morning, after the fire has been out for most of the night, the house is generally close to sixty degrees, meaning it has only dropped maybe 20 degrees from the toasty 80 degrees I usually get it up to before bed. On a sunny day, the house seems to get some good solar gain so even if empty and without a fire it is usually at least 15 degrees warmer than it is outside. And so basically, my fears of everything freezing inside have been obliterated. When I do plumb my house I probably would still drain the pipes if I was leaving for more than a weekend and it was supposed to be cold, but I no longer have fears of pipes freezing while at work, or even if I sleep downtown at a friend’s for a night!

And my Little Cod stove is a beast in terms of the heat it puts out! The first real test was when I had my house warming party on a fall October day and the door was propped open all evening as people went in and out. Once the sun went down it was a bit chilly but people cycled through the house and were amazed at how comfortably warm it was inside due to the wood stove going, despite the door and windows being open! Once I figured out my method, which is a little bit of paper, about three pieces of Fatwood fire starter sticks, and then some 1″ thick medium sized dry hardwood pieces, I found I can get a good hot fire going with one light in under 10 minutes. The draft on this little stove is awesome, in my opinion, and the cast iron radiates the heat out just like a big stove. You do have to stoke it more often than a big stove since you are using smaller pieces of wood, but once I have a good bed of coals and the house is pretty warm I will put a pretty large piece in and close the damper all the way and I can get a good slow burn for a couple hours.

Now, in terms of mess, here is what I have found about a tiny house: Yes, things can get messy fast, but it also is so quick to clean! Maybe about once a week I shake out my little Oaxacan rug, take my broom, and sweep the floor, which is really only maybe 60 square feet of floor space, so it takes maybe all of 5 minutes! Then I take my little dustpan and brush, sweep off the fire area and sweep up the pile on the floor and I am done! Sometime I also sweet the stairs, another minutes worth of work, and maybe wipe down the counter top. And I suppose about once a season I will take things off shelves and wipe those down of dust. But really, it is so quick and easy to clean! Now when I see other people’s large houses, or even my boyfriend’s apartment, I just think, what a pain to clean! Sure, you can get away not cleaning for longer, putting your dirty laundry under the bed, moving your pile of junk mail from one surface to another, but then when you do have to clean its a whole day event! No thank you. I’d rather not.

And how about a little wood stove taking up too much space? This potential issue is all about design: How do you design it into your little space in a way that it adds to the whole rather than feeling like a hazard or erroneous item? For me, I wanted the stove to be located somewhat centrally, so as to be able to be enjoyed from all parts of the house. I also knew there was a good chance I would use it to cook on so I wanted to also locate it in a place that would allow for that. With my galley way style kitchen, the wall that the wood stove sits on doesn’t feel like it impedes the flow or dominates the space at all. It sits right next to my little RV propane camper stove, so the two can easily be interchanged for cooking, both forming a nice work flow triangle with my fridge and sink which sit across from them. One reason why I chose the Little Cod stove was because of its low clearances. And when I spoke to the owner on the phone he said he has his with just 3″ of clearance with a heat shield and has never had a problem. Mine has about 6″ of clearance to the heat shield behind it and the stove pipe in places is quite a bit closer, but I also feel quite comfortable with it. What is nice about a real cast iron stove is it can burn quite hot, which mine often does, but the mass of the cast iron still creates a pretty nice, even, radiating warmth. It’s never felt uncomfortable hot in front of it and I feel like its effect in terms of warming the space is like a much larger cast iron stove in a larger space- nice warm heat radiating throughout. Also, the simple design for air flow on this stove is impressively effective! Open the intake fully and the fire quickly gets roaring. If I want a slower, cooler burning fire I either close the intake and/or add bigger logs that tend to burn slower. I have also been quite impressed that this little stove seems to burn quite clean! I have had no issues with creosote, and tapping on the stove pipe when its cool indicates no build of creosote. And I rarely even see smoke coming from the chimney- a sure sign of a clean burning fire.

A note on the Kimberly stove, one of the main competitors for the Little Cod in the tiny house application: When I went to the Mother Earth News Fair the owner and inventor of Kimberly Stoves was there.  There is a lot of hype about this little stove that costs almost $5,000 when all is said and done, and the inventor is, in my humble opinion, a bit of a sneaky salesperson, saying how it is really the only wood stove that will work in a tiny house. When I went to the Mother Earth news fair I already had money down on my Little Cod, which has a loong wait list of many many months, but I started to doubt my decision talking to the inventor of the Kimberly. Was the Kimberly really the only stove that would work in such a small space? He would sell it to me right there, for the discounted price of only $4000… I was close to going for it, despite preferring the more traditional look of the Little Cod to the sleek, modern look of the Kimberly, and having already agonized about the decision after many hours of internet research. But I didn’t bite, and I am glad I didn’t. The Kimberly may indeed be a great stove, but a few things to note: It is definitely NOT the only stove that will work in a tiny house. My Little Cod works beautifully, and I have since met friends that have had much success with other kinds of stoves in their tiny houses. And, one of those friends had a frustrating experience with the Kimberly, eventually taking it out and replacing it with a Two Dog Stove.  She is much happier with this stove, which has kept her warm for over 3 winters now with no modifications to the chimney. Her experience with Kimberly stoves was that she could not get a good draft or get the stove to produce enough heat for the Vermont winters where she lived. And she said she spent hours on the phone with the the company and Roger himself, the inventor, trouble shooting, trying different things, and then eventually asking if she could return it or get a refund, both of which they refused to do. And so eventually she just swallowed the price tag and moved on to a different stove, which she says is so much better- simpler, heats up her place faster, and much much cheaper (only $250)! So I guess I would say be cautious with the Kimberly. If you like the look and have the money, and your house is well sealed and perhaps you live in a warmer climate, then it may be an option for you. But it is not the only stove out there that will work, and it may not even work, despite all the big claims.

And my last concern- would I cook myself out? Well, I like it nice and warm. I will say my loft is generally a good bit warmer than the rest of the house, due to heat rising. So if you don’t like sleeping in the heat you could have a bit of a problem. I generally like to get the downstairs to a good 70 degrees which means the loft is a bit above 80, which means I can sleep naked if I want to, sometimes starting on top of my covers and moving under them at some point in the night as it cools down a bit. I love it, especially on the cold winter days when my body is craving being warm. And the few times it has felt just a little too hot up there, I’ll open a window for a bit to cool it down and that does the trick pretty quick. Also, I’d like to note that although it is toasty up there with the fire going, in the summer months, with windows open on three sides of the loft, I have a wonderful cross breeze and was never too hot, despite not having a ceiling fan or anything.

So there you have it! My adventures with wood stove heating have been a success! And I would give the Little Cod a five star rating. Did I mentioned that I Love love Love that it has a glass pane allowing me to see the fire!

One other thing I have yet to really calculate is how much wood I need to go through a whole winter. Like I mentioned, I was traveling for good chunks of this winter, but when I was around I would say I went through one apple crate’s worth of wood a day, probably about the equivalent of 4 or 5 pieces of regular sized firewood. And thats if I am home most of the day and keeping a slow fire going. The amount of wood you go through will vary depending on what size wood you use, and that is something I recommend you experiment with. But anyway, I haven’t done a conversion as to how many cords of wood that would be, as I am not buying cordwood but instead getting scraps from a local hardwood sawmill. But it is definitely pretty efficient I would say compared to heating a larger space or having to heat a not very well insulated or air sealed space!

So if you are considering heating your little home with wood I would say go for it. And think about how much care and money you are willing to put into insulating and air sealing and plan your stove size accordingly. And look forwards to cozy winter evenings playing cards and Bananagrams in front of your fire, drinking coconut milk hot chocolate warmed by your wood stove.

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Where I often write these blog posts from: My cozy window nook, complete with a sheep skin, and pillows my parents got me from Mexico, some dried flowers, garlic, and a beeswax candle on the windowsill.

Big dipper hangs low in the northern sky

It’s cup scooping down, offering to carry me away to the land of the stars

“But I am in the land of the stars,” I say

“Yes, here on Earth.

On this beautiful Mother Earth

Where each night I get to look up and see you twinkle

Reminding me of ancestors come and gone

And each month I get to marvel at the waxing and waning of Grandmother Moon

And each year I get to wonder at the rainbow in the leaves, the crystals that fall from the sky, the new buds that swell in the morning dew, and the thunder that promises relief on a hot summer night

This is the land of the stars.”

“Yes, but what about the madness?” you say

“The gunshots heard around the world, the games played with people’s lives, the words thrown as if it doesn’t matter

What about the madness?

Come and I’ll take you away from it all”

“Away from it all where I can watch from on high, as you do each night?

Away from it all where I can watch my fellow Earthlings destroy the beauty I love so much?

Away from it all where safe from the pain I sacrifice too the joys of love, connection, community? The satisfaction of kicking my feet up and feeling the warmth of fire on my damp dreary toes after a hard days work?

I will take the pain. Because I too have hurt and caused pain, and I cannot bow out and leave my brothers and sisters.

I will stay and dance and sing and pray with them under your great sparkle.

I will stay and struggle to grow and feel and open to all that can be felt

I do not wish to hide.

Let me feel the ecstatic, the torturous, the sublime

Let me feel it all.”

fullsizerender

Sometimes, when you live in a house that isn’t quite complete knowing you have guests coming is the perfect motivation to get you moving on some of those tasks that have been sitting patiently on a sticky on your fridge since you moved in in May… And realizing that winter may not be too too far away is also a good motivator! But first, the bliss of Summer…

Living in Mayu this summer has been a true joy of seeing, experiencing, and breathing the fruits of my labor and living my dream. And after almost two years of hard work on Mayu I felt ready to kick back and enjoy this summer a bit. And I have.

IMG_6152My loft is quite possibly my favorite place at this point in my life. With this beautiful octagon window that opens and the two side windows that also open there is almost always a delicious breeze up here, even on the hottest of summer nights. Not only can I see, hear, and feel the outdoors when I lie up here, but I also feel like a child in her dream tree house, peaking out over the world!

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A lazy Sunday morning, my sweetheart still asleep

And when this sweet soul is sleeping peacefully next to you, like an angel, it is hard not to feel blessed.

My first real guests were two of my closest girlfriends who came over for dinner, both of whom have also been on parallel journeys of creating their homes. Being able to finally have them over in my home, after years of gathering in every imaginable place but our own (shared kitchens, houses where we were house sitting or pet sitting, our short and longer term rentals…) felt so good.

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Until having my own place hosting friends always felt a bit stressful. Would my housemates be using the kitchen at the same time? Would so and so be offended by the small of meat? Can we truly just have sister time and talk about the sorrows, longings, and joys of our hearts in full honesty and in confidence?

But now in my own place something in my soul feels so much more able to give from a place of ease and peace. Even in the humbleness of not yet having running water or enough dishes, I did not hesitate to ask my friends to bring their own bowls, and both happily obliged and offered to take home dirty dishes to do at their place. The next time they came I had more dishes and the summer sun had warmed the evenings enough to allow us to eat outside on my newly constructed deck. And after dinner we retired up into my cozy loft where we lounged and chatted until the whee hours of the morning. Finally! A place that is my home where if what started as a dinner turns into a sleepover I don’t have to worry about offended any house mates. Indeed, sometimes it is these small things that make a difference.

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My deck! Complete with a heart shaped picnic table built by John 

And most recently a spontaneous pull of lunar energies seemed to have landed us all around a fire in my yard, gazing up at the milky way and watching the big dipper move across the sky. It is truly a land of Big Sky here in this open field surrounded by trees.

Summer has also brought an abundance of Food, causing my fridge to overflow with tomatoes!

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Tomatoes from my garden. Blueberries from my berry CSA at Kestrel Perch. Eggs and cheese also from local farms bought at the local food co-op. And coconut milk and orange juice not local but also bought from the food co-op. 

But thankfully about a month and a half ago now I got myself set up with this adorable RV oven, which felt like such a huge upgrade from my single burner camp stovetop that I used for the first two months in Mayu!

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I’ve been making good use of this oven, making zucchini bread, sweet potatoes, and roasted eggplant in the oven, and anything you please on my 3 burner stove top!

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A glass of orange juice, kale and tomatoes from my garden with local mushrooms and onion, chicken, baked in my oven with some black currant sauce, and some paleo bread! Yummm! 

And as summer is winding down I finally got my wood stove hooked up in preparation for the chillier nights and mornings.

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And suddenly tonight as I started to clean up after dinner and found that it was already dark out and I wanted more light, I installed these LED task lights which I must say, make me feel like I am living in quite the luxurious little house!

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And today, as I anticipated my two cousins coming to visit for a few days, and then my house warming party not too far off on October 15th I finally built my little nook to provide a little more seating area and storage!

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The top is cherry, which I will oil at some point, and the front is maple flooring. Both the maple and the cherry I was generously given by people who felt they would not use them. This bench that is right across from the front door get the morning sun and will provide a perfect spot to sit and put on or take off your shoes, and drop your things when you come in. And it open up to provide quite a large space for storage! 

And I also hung some wall hooks as, although my wonderful closet works well for me, I thought guests should have a place to hang their coats especially as the weather starts to get cooler!

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You will also notice the curtain for my bathroom door, which is an improvement over no curtain! Thank you Parker for making this curtain for me!

Oh yeah, have you seen my closet? Perhaps not… Here it is! It lives below my stairs 🙂

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Ok, that is all for now! It is past my bedtime and my loft is calling me. Thank you for reading and for being part of this amazing journey!

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Good Night and blessings, from Mayu

She has Returned

A beautiful proclamation to the shift that is upon us and the blood and tears and scars that have been left as we struggle towards a new and better place…

Tribe of Dreams

The very first time I heard Bernie Sanders speak, I knew who he was

knew the energy he was representing

knew that he was being fed from the same wellspring of evolving consciousness by which so many of us have been being fed lately on this planet.

This wellspring offers the energy of community

fellowship

kinship

unity

wellness.

It offers the energy of equality

equanimity

truth

justice.

It offers the energy of love.

In a civilization that values profit about all else

this energy becomes revolutionary

but it is not by nature.

By nature, this energy is evolutionary.

There is only so long that we can continue to stumble blindly upon the Earth

eating her up faster than she can feed us

and creating so much suffering for ourselves, our kin in the community of life, and our future generations.

So it is not only unsurprising,

but also necessary

View original post 1,064 more words

Home Blessing

Every home needs a blessing. Every space deserves to be honored. Mine is on the inside of one of my upper cabinets and are the lyrics of a song by Peia:

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Blessed we are

to dance on this ground

with the rhythm of saints

to carry the sound.

*

We hold a prayer for the Earth,

for the ones yet to come –

May you walk in beauty

and remember your song.

*
Remember why you came here.

Remember your life is sacred.

Remember why you came here,

remember this life is sacred.

~ Peia (Ancestral Song Keeper)

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