Hasta Mañana

It's a cold day, there's a chill blowing in from the south, a stark contrast to yesterdays hot wind which howled at us from the opposite direction. The weather has a hint of insanity this time of year. It's indecisive, like one of those annoying guests at a restaurant trying to decide between the beef and black bean sauce, or the combination sweet and sour. The past few months have been weird here, with brutal mini heatwaves followed by freezing days, reminiscent of middle winter. The plants are confused as I am. I've lost a few, some bolted and set seed, and some have been hit hard, by insects that seem to have arrived much earlier this year. As frustrating as losing some of my crop is, it's all normal to some extent.

I have a few cups of dried beans in store, which is surprising seeing that I cooked with them quite a lot this past winter. The last few years I've become quite the bean eater, which has been a great experience. I know why poor farming folk in the past relied on beans so heavily to get through the cold season. They're an investment in my food bank. I grow as many as I can over summer, hang them to dry in Autumn, painstakingly pull them from the dried pods and pop them into jars for storage. It's fiddly work which I tend to save for the evenings in Autumn when we start huddling around the fire place once again. I don't really start cooking with them until the wild mushrooms of Autumn diminish, and casserole, stew, braising season begins. 

A plate of beans tells quite a story, well this plate of beans does anyway. It's not store bought, not highly processed, not packaged in a tin. It's a culmination of determination, nurturing, effort and patience. It's not just the beans I've been responsible for, but many of the other ingredients. A bottle of preserved whole tomato from last summers crop, a bottle of tomato passata, also from the previous summer, fresh garden parsley, dried garlic and kale, all from my patch. A lamb neck traded with venison I hunted, indirect effort on my behalf, but food trading is an important part of my food income. Even the smokey roasted chilli powder I used came from Jalapeño I grew last year, oven roasted, smoked then blended to make a butt whacking hot spice. And the accompanying bread, my sourdough of course, which took me a few years to master, but now produces a high rise, tasty bread that has only two ingredients, flour and water. 

The ingredients that haven't come from my efforts, are the onions (of which I cannot grow enough to supply my kitchen), the smoked pimenton, cumin, goat feta and glug of olive oil. The rest is mine. 

I'm not sure how many of these bean meals I'll make before summer kicks in, but while the weather remains topsy turvy I'll continue to dish them up. It's an easy process too, I simply brown the onions and garlic, add a few cups of soaked dried beans, the tomatoes, parsley, spices and a bit of water. I then brown the lamb and pop that in too. When it's finally bubbling away, I take the large pot off the hob and slide it into the oven whispering "hasta mañana". It cooks overnight and welcomes me first thing in the morning, baked to perfection. 

This is real food, it's what I identify as food now. Most of the food available to us at the supermarket is not real food, it's not good for us and it's hard on the environment. But it's still there, it's still legal, which blows my mind at times. The more I learn about food the more I realise that the food I used to eat was so full of shit, that it was surely but slowly killing me. I am comforted by the results and transformation in my health, and in my quality of life, shifting from processed foods, to learning how to cook real food. I wish the same for everyone else. We're living in an interesting time, a sad time in fact. We have so much knowledge and awareness but we keep enacting the same consumer behaviour, preventable diet and lifestyle disease continue to rise, even in the young. I don't know how change will come, I'm sure it will be slow if any. In the meantime, I'll stay put right here in the hill country, happily slurping my chilli beans. 

 

From a seed in city soil....

I didn't realise that by growing a handful of veggies in an urban backyard that I would be lead to where I am today, both in a physically and metaphysical sense. Simply by planting some seeds in a patch of city soil I embarked on a journey of discovery, education and experience. Initially my aims where driven by a mix of health, guilt, ethics, environment, and that romantic notion of 'living off the land'. All of these reasons for change remain interrelated and very much connected to one other. 

I've now been living back 'out bush' for a number of years now, and have no intention of moving back to an urban environment. I like it out here too much. I like the big sky, the unobstructed views and the quiet darkness of evening. I like my lush food garden, I like the rabbits and ducks in the paddock, I like my productive hen house and I like the freedom to walk outside with no one peering over the fence. But it is only a rental, and it all has to go. My garden will be gone soon, but I will rebuild, somewhere. I don't want to dwell on that heartbreak, I want to focus on what's beautiful, and that's the lifestyle I'm fortunate to be able to embrace.

Lifestyle is an interesting phenomenon. That we even get to choose a lifestyle is a luxury that poorer cultures or people living with conflict do not have. With that in mind, I appreciate my freedom of choice a great deal. I chose a lifestyle with less fiscal security, instead opting for experience, quality and an increased level of health when compared to my old life. I take pleasure in the freshness of the garden food, the uniqueness of wild fare, the seasonality of forgeable items.

We live fairly normal lives, but In regards to food and chores, we're not that dissimilar to a family living rural 100 years ago. In fact we're not much different to a rural Mediterranean family, in that we enjoy fresh seasonal produce, some local farmed and wild food, all of which I have to work for directly or indirectly. 

Along the way to 'here' I've recorded many fond memories, many of them relating to food I've produced. Memories such as biting into a crisp sugar snap pea straight off the vine from my backyard, or the juice of a sun warmed tomato exploding in my mouth. Munching my first home grown asparagus or opening the jar of my first attempt of pickled jalapeño. I remember the first slice of home cured jamon years ago, it was a full 12 months in the making, even better was the initial success of my very first experiment with chorizo a few years back. Not only was it the enjoyment of the flavours and textures, but most importantly is the joy of accomplishment, of being useful to oneself, and for the family. 

I don't believe that everyone needs to grow their own food or hunt animals or even prance around the forest with a basket of foraged treats. I do think many of our food woes can be improved with more mindful consumer choices, but for those of us with the inclination, willingness for some work, a patch of soil and the time, I can't recommend this approach to living enough. 

This lifestyle has tought me so much. It's changed me in many ways. My entire value system has been flipped upside down, which directly influences other facets of my life. I consume less, I want for less, I value hard waring, practical, reliable, long lasting over design and fashion. I'm excited by small backyard victories, cooking success's and the love for true seasonality of the food that fuels my family. A simple frittata of home grown produce is more celebrated than the expensive gourmet food I once ate at classy restaurants. There is an excitement when a food ingredient returns back in our lives, a floret of broccoli, a pod of peas or the crisp heat of a summer chili. We follow the annual cycle of food and it enriches our lives.     

Embracing this lifestyle has one down side. The deeper I go into this beautiful peasant, natural, self sufficient, hippy, practiculture living, the less I can relate to my old world. I used to love to consume, to get what ever I wanted, even though I didn't need it. Electrical items, clothes, gadgets and general stuff that filled my house, but I did not use. It's not that I now live in a cave, wearing animal skins, instead I've just managed to embrace an approach that involves less. Less stuff, less baggage instead more focus on high value experiences and quality of living.

I don't have all the answers. I do love living this way though, and as much as I'd like to see more people embrace it, I acknowledge that it isn't everyones cup of tea. Even when it comes to an individuals quality of health, it's often not until something bad happens that major changes are made to lifestyle choices. Even when we know what we are doing is bad for us, or the planet, we continue the behaviour (case in point, the current western lifestyle). We are definitely an interesting species. On that note, before I get too political, I'll go pop on the kettle for a herbal tea. How things have changed.   



What happened to common sense?

This afternoon I overheard a conversation about milk that was the straw that broke the nutritionally healthy camels back. I thought about this milk conversation as I cooked dinner for my family. A dinner of common sense real food, some roast veg with passata baked sausage. But let's not talk about a sensible dinner, allow me to tell you about the milk and nutritional information fiasco. 

Image 1. Sensible dinner porn

The hot news is that milk is bad. In fact, it seems that all diary is bad of you. 'Everyone' seems to be telling me about the magical properties of cow milk alternatives like almond, soy, and coconut milk and of course the most popular of all, the Choo Choo Berry Milk. Apparently all these milks have God like healing powers. Normal cows milk however is clearly evil, and is the root cause of most illness, including stupidity. How embarrassing that all these years various human cultures have been culturing milk to make cheese and such, which was obviously a whey bad idea. So bad that everyone that has ever consumed dairy products will now go to hell, where they'll be forced to drink diabolical spiced lattes and hell fire smoked cheddar. 

Ok so I'm clearly going over the top, but for fucks sake can we just calm down with the nutritional advice? It's getting out of control, to the point that I just don't want to care about food anymore. This is the age of endless information, and the internet is a hot bed for conflicting 'science', irrational opinions and vested interests. The nutritional advice game is played out on every platform. I can't look at Instagram, Facebook or Grinder without someone telling me that Choo Choo berries cure cancer or flax seed oil will give me a harder, longer erection.

I feel for the people beginning the journey of eating healthy food, for it's a veritable mine field of conflicting information. You can imagine someone asking google those big questions;  "is milk bad for me?" "can I die from cabbage overdose?" "can I get drunk on Kombucha?" "actually what the fuck is kombucha and why is everyone drinking it?"

Image 2. More sensible dinner porn. 

As a bloke that's come from chicken nugget land to roasted home grown veg for dinner, I can relate to how challenging it is to wade through the bullshit information out there. It's almost like it's screaming at the consumer about 'healthy food' options, actually let me rephrase that, 'misleading' the consumer. Examples are everywhere. I see that my favourite processed food company McCains now has a 'healthy grains' pre made meal range, containing the magical properties of ingredients like quinoa and wild rice (wtf is actually wild about wild rice?). But what can we expect from companies like McCains? They even sell a frozen roasted potato product that cooks in an oven in just 30mins, about the same time it takes to actually roast an actual potato. Any meal that comes in a box that has to tell you it's healthy, probably isn't very healthy. An apple doesn't need to tell you it's healthy, neither does a beetroot, not even a roast spud. But thankfully we have the companies to help us time poor people out, they even tell us on their website....."We all know we should be eating healthier, but really, who’s got the time?". 

I walk down the 'health food' isle of the local IGA curiously observing all the 'healthy' food. From vegan processed 'food', 'paleo' bread and fermented food that promises to repair my body from the impact of my poor diet and lifestyle choices. Seriously, where the fuck did all this rubbish come from? The majority of it is not very good food, but people keep believing in it, and keep buying it. I feel for the real sufferers of IBS and gluten intolerance that have to go down these isles to buy the gluten free food, to have to wade past the rubbish. And on that subject, why have so many people decided it's a good idea to self diagnose themselves with a gluten intolerance, or to choose to eat gluten free for 'health' reasons. If you do not have an autoimmune disorder involving gluten, then don't go gluten free to improve your health. It's a dumb choice. So many consumers are opting for the gluten free option for the wrong reasons and manufacturers are rubbing their hands together, so much so there are even TV commercials selling gluten free products like pasta. It's just another hot retail item, but it's need and popularity is not comparative with the numbers of  people with gluten intolerances. 

How can our food and nutritional health have gone from rudimentary just a few decades ago, to Masters Degree level in such a short time period? The answer is the dependable drive for making more money. A few decades ago it was as simple as recommending we eat mostly whole foods and do some exercise for healthy living, now it's as complicated as an episode of Lost. And someone is making a lot of money from it. The more information about the health values of a particular food item, the more confusing and misleading it is to us, and I've had enough. I'm deflated, I obviously need a 'detox'. I can imagine how deflated someone would be if I told them they just needed to real food, like veg, fruit, nuts, grains with a little bit of meat and dairy in order to be healthy. That they didn't have to 'give up' a family of food entirely, instead just to use common sense, and embrace moderation. Common sense, do we even remember it? Let me think on that while I suck on my 700ml protein shake. 

Shit food, is shit food. Cheap shit milk will always be cheap shit milk. Good milk from decent dairy, with the cream still on top and as unfucked with as possible is good milk, but also only good in moderation. Shit cheese is shit cheese. Good cheese is ok, but I wouldn't recommend you eat  tubs of the stuff, except marinated goats cheese, rub that one all over your body to get that youthful appearance. 

I'm old enough to remember the time before food allergies, food intolerances and nutritional information saturation. A time before paleo, raw food, detox, protein shakes, fermented miracle products and choo choo berries. Common sense, please return. We miss you.

Notes:

1. Yes I have been known to eat some fermented food, not for it's miraculous values but simply for it's taste. 

2. I acknowledge that some people do actually have real food allergies and intolerances, to dairy etc

3. There is nothing wrong with people actually diagnosed with gluten intolerance. I'm not hating on them. It is a shit condition to live with. 

4. The dairy industry is mostly shit, but that doesn't mean you can't consume dairy products. Just use common sense and avoid the crap where possible and opt for the better stuff (if you care to do so). 

5. If anyone defends the pre-made processed food, you're camping in the wrong tent, move along, nothing to see here. 

6. I'm also not bagging ALL nutritionalists. Some are good, some are shit, just like cheese. 

7. If you want to drink Kombucha do so. But stop telling me how healing it is. I'm happy eating vegetables. 

Image 3: OMG is that a d$#k?




Seeded Optimism

Recently, a dear friend showed me some messages she'd received from a bloke via a dating app. It was gross. I was ashamed to be of the same sex as the male that sent the messages, to think there are males out there that act like that. I felt like an ancient man, out of touch with how the humans communicate with each other. I feel saddened at how disgusting and brutal some forms of human communication have become. Often I feel like I'm an old man, rocking on a chair on a porch when I say things like this, but I have to share that I'm often repulsed by the lack of respect people have for each other, especially on social media, but also on the street, in public. It's like the wheels are falling off decent social values. I get lost in the internet tunnel in apps like Instagram, deep in the search function where you can look into the lives of other people, what they value, what they hold dear and what and who they aspire to be. I just don't get a lot of it. I don't understand why people do certain things, destructive things. I just don't get a lot of it. 

I've been called a Nihilist on more than one occasion, and I guess thats why I like living in my bubble. Here things make sense to me. I surround myself in elements of nature and family, things I can understand. I'm not yelled at by a TV, we got rid of it years ago. I don't have junk mail in my letter box telling me to buy stuff, in fact no post gets delivered to our home, instead we have to travel to town and junk mail doesn't make it to PO boxes. I remember how the junk mail annoyed me when I lived in the city (yes, I had a no junk mail sign).

The other day I saw a well known local radio presenter working in his garden up here in the hills. When I visited the city this week I saw him again, not in person but on a billboard screwed to the back of a bus, advertising his radio show. I had to laugh a little. It was perfect metaphor for my style of living. I see the real stuff, not the billboard advertising it. It wasn't that long ago that I lived in a city, in fact most of my adult life I've resided in a built human environment. I much prefer where I am now. Not just physically, but for my mental health. Living out here, amongst the nature is brilliant for my sanity. It just proves how unhealthy city life has become, well for me anyhow. I'm a big believer that processed food has a lot to answer for in regards to anxiety and depression, but the noise, visual pollution, crowds, traffic, high cost of living etc all play their part too. 

And then I'm in my garden, my dirt covered hands fumble through packets of vegetable seeds. I select the plants that will feed us over summer, eggplant, tomato, zucchini, squash, cucumber, basil, coriander and more.  In a few weeks I'll begin to plant food that will feed us the following winter, the food that will store well like beans and pumpkin. I'll also plant the food that grows underground and gets it's start in late summer and grows through into autumn. The amazing root veg that enters torpor as the soil cools, and is easily plucked when needed in the depths of winter. 

The seeds that have been drying on my shelves and in old glass jars since I last ate their fruit, will now serve their intended purpose. These seeds hold the genetic information of previous crops, and hold all the energy and goodness that will make them germinate and grow into another year of food to feed my family. So simple, so easy to understand. 

The spring equinox has arrived, the days will be longer, my garden will see more sunlight and we will subsequently eat more vegetables. It's a beautiful system and it's one that I never really understood when I lived in the city, but makes sense to me now that I'm living deep within it's core. The dark days of winter are over, now the optimism of spring has returned. The beginning of the cycle, another year begins.

It will take a few months for these vegetables to feed us, in the meantime, I'll cook with the spring produce of mizuna, broad beans, peas, broccoli and endless rocket, kale and chard. There is always something to eat here, I even have a few potatoes and carrots stored underground ready for a supper. Even though I earn the least amount of money I've ever had, somehow I manage to eat like a king. Now how is that possible? ;-) 

Accidental Activist

This past week I've been bed ridden, I've had a lot of time to think. Here are some thoughts. 

A few weeks ago I started telling my story over and over again, it's all part and parcel of being an author. Writing a book is step one, promoting is step two. Over the course of a few weeks of re-telling my story, I'm realising more and more that I've fallen into the box labeled 'Social Activist'. I'm kind of split by this. On one side there's the lovely idealistic notion that I'm part of some people power movement instigating positive social change, and then there's the other side which has me looking for some alone quiet time and maybe finding that peace I've been chasing for years. I'm not going to rabbit on about what it's like to be an agent of change, instead I want to talk about how I've shifted my expectations for that social change. 

In the beginning I wanted to go extreme, I wanted everyone to return to the roots, to the soil, to provide for themselves. It didn't take me long to realise that the many humans are simply not interested in this approach, well not in the way that I am anyway. That realisation broke my precious little naive heart. That naive, enthusiastic spirit, full of good intentions to save the world. Over the years my nativity wore down like the epidermal layers of my practiculture hands. The outcome is that I've become more realistic in my expectations. So much so that I have no expectations for what anyone else does, or thinks, or puts into action. I also used to care when people would criticise me, for what I was doing, or for my 'success' (welcome to Australia), and for that matter, I no longer give a shit. Sounds harsh, allow me to continue. 

Jamie Oliver is releasing a new book soon that has a focus on healthy eating. Jamie Oliver, you may have heard of him. This bloke is so well known, has done so much in regards to 'educating' the community about eating real food. His actions are worthy of a Excellent Human Award, if there was such a thing. This book (like many of his others) will make a difference in many peoples lives, and that's magnificent outcome. But no matter how famous or wide reaching this message will travel, the reality is that many people won't hear it, or they will hear it, they just won't 'get it'. And you just can't lose sleep over it, although I used to, which in hindsight was a complete waste of time. I used to think it was a mission of mine to 'convert' people to eating healthy real food and maybe persuade them into 'giving a shit' about their impact on natural world.  I've tried many different techniques of communicating this message, from calm, positive, scientific, to fists of rage raised high into the internet air. I've since realised that people will do what people want to do. Let us take nutrition, or personal health as an example. If people choose to ignore the likes of Jamie Oliver waving a flag for real food, and instead choose to eat crap food, then they're the ones, that at some point will have to deal with whatever health consequences may arise as a result of their choices. That was me in my previous life. I clearly knew I was eating crap food, but I liked it, it was cheap and convenient. I only started making changes when my health began to falter. Not suggesting that that's the only way someone with transition from a diet of crap food, to a diet of real food, but it is a common thing and I've been writing about it (the transition) for many years now. Looking back, it's clear to me that the experience was a social activist trap. It's not at all a bad thing, in fact, the process has been a great learning experience, so much so that it's shifted my views on many things. You might say it's this view is pessimistic or realistic, please continue. 

It's comforting to know that each day, all I can really do is feed myself and my family the food that is based on my belief system. This is food that comes mostly from the backyard, the things I can't grow I can source from local ethical producers, the rest  I can get from the ever reliable stupidmarket. That's what I do because I've made deliberate choices in my life to make that happen (this does not mean that I think I'm better than you or more ethical or some bullshit like that). I constantly get told that my lifestyle is not applicable to people living in the city and I agree with that, especially if you're living in a studio apartment.  But there are alternatives to producing most of your food, from CSA's to veg box schemes to home delivered meat straight from the farmer, farmers markets, fresh food markets, there are backyards in cities, soil on crown land, community gardens, and there is also the fresh produce department at a supermarket. I'm yet to visit a supermarket that doesn't have a fresh produce section.  The point I'm making is that there is always another option to simply eating mostly processed foods. But regardless of that point, really who's to say what anyone else should eat. It's all personal choice right?

photo @bobbyandtide

photo @bobbyandtide

And that's the very reason why change will be slow. Because it's up to us, the collective of individuals. It's the individual that needs to first recognise that changes need to be made, and secondly to actively implement those changes. But you can't be told to do that, it has to be personally motivated. I go to great lengths not to tell people how they should be living their lives, instead I take the approach of saying, this is what I do, and this is why I do it. Last week I did a cooking event at a fresh produce market, it was a wonderful looking market, with fresh produce displayed all neat and pretty like. However with the experience of being a veg grower, all I could  see was out of season produce that had most likely been sprayed with pesticide and fertilised with some inorganic shit, and had no doubt travelled a long distance to get to the market (Chanterelles from France, case in point). But is it my place to yell and scream and explain to the people at that market that the food they're eating has a high carbon legacy, or that has residual pesticides on it. No it is not my place to do that, instead they have to figure that out for themselves. And that is why we are doomed. Because people find this reality confronting and shit, because it is. And let's face it, who wants to go with out eggplant for 8 months of the year? It's unthinkable. 

So why do people have to figure it out for themselves? Why can't we have a television show that explains it all, clear and scientific like? Because not many people would watch it. No one likes bad news, people like happy shiny things, like sportsball, hot chicks in bikinis and masculine ripped abs. It helps to distract them from the realities of existence. Life is not easy. Sometimes it's ok, but usually it's busy, stressful and everyones short on time. Well that's what we tell each other anyway, but it's all down to choice, if you catch my drift. You buy the big houses, you pay the big bank loan. You buy the new car, you pay the big bank loan. It's maths baby. 

The same can be applied to diet and lifestyle choices. Some people choose to eat protein shakes, some take supplements, some eat chicken nuggets, some are cooking imported French Chanterelles and some are eating backyard kale. Everyones eating something based on their belief system. Which belief system is right? Does there even need to be a right believe system? The only thing I've figured out is that we probably should care about what is actually going into our bodies as it may impact on our health. We kinda should care about the wellbeing of the natural world, cause it kinda supports our very existence. And just a little cherry on top, maybe it's not such a bad thing to care about the conditions the animals we end up eating live in, or to maybe care about how the worker humans that make our food are treated. But hey, that's up to the individual to want to care. 

I'm comforted by the idea that no matter how much us humans end up damaging ourselves, each other or the natural world, at least the planet has the ability to recover, given the right conditions of time and a reduction in the amount damaging humans. Here's hoping. Enjoy the Chanterelles. 

 

Journeys are funny things

I can't remember when I started my journey, I just know that I'm on it.
 

Food has been my vehicle of choice, and it's taken me to both amazing and horrible places, literally and metaphorically. Today I woke to the reassuring sound of rain falling on the tin roof of our old rented farm house. I've heard rain fall on many different roof's and this morning it was here, at the place I currently call home. It's not my place, someone else owns it. I don't have the money to afford my own place. The dream of buying my own land often nags at me somewhere in the back of my convoluted mind. I've made do with the situation. Years ago, when we first moved here I asked the landlord if we could fence off a small backyard size area to grow food.

Our request was granted (for an extra rental fee) and we have a small area fenced off where I grow a good amount of food for our families needs. I have the usual elements, a handful of vegetable beds, a hen house, some fruit trees and a poly tunnel (hot house). The idea is to grow and provide as much food as possible. An alternative to eating mass produced food, to reduce our food miles and to eat produce that's has been grown chemically free. This is a contrast to how I used to live, I've not always cooked with real food, instead I relied heavily on processed food. Eventually my body began to break down and didn't function as well as it used to. I had a long list of health problems because of my food choices, so I looked to the past for some answers and embraced a simpler 'peasant' style of living that's served communities of humans quite well for thousands of years. 

This morning I stepped out in the mud of winter, I walked the isles of my backyard garden, picked some ingredients, fed my hens, planted some spring vegetables and went inside to cook. My life is sometimes very simple, other times it's as complicated as a Facebook relationship status. But it's real and it's very normal. I work a job, then when I'm not working I spend time cooking and working on food production, be that growing, hunting or searching for free wild food. 

In the cold still air of the morning, I laid my ingredients out on the kitchen bench. I stared at them a while, sipping a hot cup of tea. Food has been the driving force, leading me to experiences and unexpected events. Staring at these inanimate objects may seem weird to some, but it's the food that sparked me to make change, to deliberatly move away from what was easy and comfortable towards something that is real, natural and honest. Food has challenged my entire belief and morality system that goes beyond a meal, it filters everything in life. 

Food has taken me on an adventure of flavour, of new experiences and new skills. Food has taught me to be resourceful, practical and in it's very production has provided me with a sense of purpose and accomplishment that I'd never felt before. My food has taught me to think more, to ask more questions. It's taught me to be creative. It's given me a love of writing and taught me to improve how I communicate, notably to restrain the wild anger that burns inside me.

Life is one big journey, a cliche I'm happy to embrace. I started this journey with the intention of  providing for my family and I've been taking many places in the process. My intention and purpose remains the same. I acknowledge that it's simple and thats the way I like to live, simple. My life used to be complicated, stressful and purposeless. These past few years I've achieved two things that make life enjoyable, clarity and a sense of contentment. My aim it to continue this lifestyle, but like all journeys, many paths present themselves along the way. Paths you never imagined in your wildest dreams that you'd be prepared to take.