Thursday, November 7, 2013


Wow. A lot has happened since I posted here. The biggest change is that I have moved to live on the Sunshine Coast of BC (Canada).

Living in the city was not my first choice but circumstances conspired to land me in one for the last several years. I always sought to find a more rural place to live, but had put that thought on the back burner for a while. I had contented myself most recently with a Balcony Permaculture Food Forest.

I had even assured my boss at the running apparel store where I worked part time that I would not be moving to the Sunshine Coast any time soon -- I had apprised him of my desire to do so when he became the new manager of my store this summer-- and that I would be available to teach the next 10-week running clinic to a goal of 5 km.

So, he went off to enjoy a European holiday and suddenly I was given the opportunity to move to a peaceful suburban home in the small Sunshine Coast community of Gibsons, BC. Of course, at first, I dithered. But after I talked it over with my wise and lovely Youngest Daughter, I realized that the only fear I had about the move was the process of moving itself -- a temporary pain!

As it happened, I thought to at least finish what I had started at the store -- a ten-week commitment -- thinking I'd commute to the city and couch surf as necessary, but a replacement instructor for the running clinic stepped up. Nevertheless, I had to endure the manager's teasing that I should be a politician.

So here I am.

There is almost zero (ZERO!!) traffic noise. There are no 2 am drunken brawls spilling, cursing and screaming, onto the street from the pub across the street, no motorcycles revving up to explosive decibel levels at odd hours for no comprehensible reason. The nights are almost totally dark with very little light pollution. I can see stars at night.

I share the house with a sensitive and caring artist and three cats. Our landlords are awesome. I have huge spaces in which to garden. And I am within minutes walking distance to beaches, forests and hiking trails of the wildest kind!

In fact, I am so close to the wilds that again, I am uneasy because of the presence of a bear that regularly includes our yard on his Checking for Yummy Garbage Route. A hand-written note posted at the marina the other day warned of cougar sightings right in town. I have seen deer browsing on the acorns of an oak tree behind our house, and a pair of crows can sound like a murder arguing crow-politics at the crack of dawn!

Even the weather conspired with my move, the winter rains holding off for weeks. The winter rains have started now, but never mind. Even the distractions are pleasant, my views of Mount Elphinstone in one direction and glimpses of the Strait of Georgia in the other. The view is constantly changing, whether it's the quality of the light, the shadows and clouds, or the mists marching upwards in diaphanous curtains from the sea. I'm never bored.

Somewhere close by in some back yard, I can hear chickens clucking in the late afternoon when it's sunny and the kids are getting home from school.

When I go out for a walk on the beach, as I do at least once a day, I am quite likely to see a blue heron, gulls, a bald eagle or a river otter and many sea birds I can't yet identify with confidence. The shells and pebbles on the beach lure me to bring more of them home. My glasses are always clouded these days by salt spray and mist.

I sat for hours one sunny afternoon a few days ago at the little beach closest to my house at the end of our road. It looks across the Strait of Georgia towards Vancouver Island in the distance. A man and his dog came down to the beach. With a sureness of gait I haven't been able to master at all, the man and dog strode across the rocks towards the point, and as the man passed me he said,

"It's affirming, isn't it...."

"Pardon," I asked, "what's affirming?"

"All the choices that led to being here."

And then he and the dog disappeared behind the rocks of the cliff, startling up a flock of gulls that had been sunning themselves there out of sight. The gulls wheeled over the water, screeching in protest, but without much energy to keep it up for long. The sun was going down fast and as soon as it dipped behind the hill, the quickly dropping temperature sent me reluctantly home.

And yes, YES! It is affirming! I am grateful, so grateful for this, here. now!

Friday, April 12, 2013


The other day, expecting a technician from my phone/internet provider to arrive to fix the intercom for my unit in my condo building, I decided to do a little tidying.

Now, in my experience, tidying up usually results in many minor and major disasters, not the least of which is that I cannot find anything afterwards.

So, in my attempts to make the kitchen counters and stove-top look less messy, I tucked (among other things) the lidded glass casserole dish containing my precious sourdough starter out of sight into the oven.

Surely I'm not the only one who hides stuff in the oven!

Anyway, even as I did it, I thought to myself that I'm liable to forget they are there when I next turn on the oven. And, sure enough, that very day I turned on the oven to bake some potatoes and --- arrrgh! Yes. I killed the sourdough starter.

ethnobotany resources

Several years ago after my trips to Ethiopia, I found it was very difficult to find information on the plants of East Africa online. Either things have improved or I just happened to stumble upon more information lately. Here are a few of the sites that have been very helpful:

PROTA - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa

Royal Museum for Central Africa

JSTOR Plant Science

Friday, April 5, 2013


Today, I came upon a lovely, share-able art/community-building project that could be adapted for almost any neighbourhood.

Read about it here.

the art of connecting (aka the irritations of being human)

Being a mix of Type 2 and Type 4 personality, I am ambivalent about people. I'm not a grouch -- yes, I am a grouch. I'm not anti-social -- yes, I like being alone. I like people -- often, I'd rather keep people at arm's length.

Or to get serious, I long to be known and loved for who I am, but I avoid intimacy because of my memories of betrayals and hurts.

I've been amused recently to read about the difficulties of living in a more connected way and the irritations of a re-humanized way of doing business.

We all used to belong to rather close communities once upon a time. Everybody knew their neighbours' business and everybody gossiped about the neighbours. Some communities were more or less supportive and inclusive than others. But you had few choices: you either fit in, or you didn't. It could be harsh or divine.

With the rise of individualism, a largely Western ideal, fitting in became less important. And yet, there remains the longing to belong, the longing for community.

Some of us probably try to fill that gap with material things. After all, the promise of much advertising is that if you possess this or that thing, you will be happy and be surrounded by people who at least admire you and want to be you, if they don't actually love and adore you.

Others try to construct for themselves a community, but it's rather arbitrary and fixed. Instead of the random mix of people who found themselves thrown into a community by birth or circumstance, today people belong to churches, or political parties, or build gated communities that only include people of a certain social or economic class. You have to be chosen and you choose the community you want to be a part of. There is much less migration from one social or economic class to another than there used to be.

Perhaps the idea of corporations and huge government grew out of the belief that in consolidation, efficiencies were to be found. Disconnected and scattered people (who have become known in the current parlance as "resources") can be made more efficient if collected into some hierarchical conglomeration, structured according to some rationale and systematized.

In many ways, we come smack-up against the dehumanized face of huge corporations and huge governments in the multitude of frustrations we experience every day. The gutted front-line personnel is totally un-empowered and unable to satisfy you if you have a complaint. In retail, they are usually paid minimum wage and it's useless to rail against them and only serves to add to their misery. So try to find somebody to actually address your concerns higher up. (That is a whole 'nother story!)

People, consciously or not, resist being hierarchical, rational and systematized. No matter how clear and stream-lined the goals and plans of an organization are intended to be, people act in ways that oppose corporate values and intentions. Even in the best organized corporations, with the most efficient organization of authority and responsibility, people perversely act in contradictory if not outright anarchist ways.

Irritations always arise.

Irritations can come from our beliefs in how people should act and our own expectations of how people will act. In other words, I am attached to certain ideals and when people rub me the wrong way, it's uncomfortable. It certainly doesn't matter at all if either I or they are right or wrong. It simply boils down to what I expect or want.

How lovely it would be if people would just fall in with my ideals and wants, whatever they are at any given time. I'm perfectly capable of admitting that that can vary from time to time, and I can also see that it's unreasonable to expect that anybody living near me should alter their behavior to suit me and my fickle expectations. And that is reality.

If, by understanding that my moods can vary and therefore my tolerance for other people can fluctuate, it's easier for me, by first forgiving myself, to forgive others for their irritating behaviors. And I can also understand that the irritating behaviors of people are often not irritating in themselves as much as the irritation arises from me and my reaction to having my attachment to an ideal in that moment ripped away, like a scab on a wound! Neither my beliefs nor my reactions about situations end up being real in any sense, so I might as well relax!

By deciding that I am not going to take myself so seriously, that my story about myself and events is only a story I tell myself after all, life becomes truly interesting.

sourdough update

As my sourdough experiment continues, the second loaf of sourdough bread has been made with some adjustments.
-I didn't cook the millet before hand, adding the grains to the dough raw.
-I also threw in some sunflower seeds, just because I have a lot of them.
-In addition to whole wheat flour and all purpose (unbleached white) flour, I added a couple handfuls of meusli that I had on hand.

This time, I was careful to allow the dough lots of time to rise, which it did beautifully, but again my spontaneous planning (ie, no planning ahead at all) bit me in the butt, because I found myself shaping the dough into a loaf at midnight and realizing that at this rate, it would probably be going into the oven in the wee hours of the morning!

Since another of my resolutions is to try to get to bed earlier, I decided to put the loaf into the fridge where the cooler temperature would slow down the yeast, but hopefully not kill it.

In the morning, it had risen some, but not much. So I let it sit around for over an hour, which probably gave it time to warm up a little. It didn't rise as much as it might have if I had given it more time. Still, I did pop it into the oven, and about 30 min later, I took it out of the oven because it looked beautiful and smelled divine.

The texture of the crust-end slice was excellent, but further into the loaf, the inside of the bread was still doughy and tasted under-done. Hmmmnn. It is a very big loaf, actually, about double the size of bread I used to make in bread pans once upon a time long, long ago...

Obviously, I need to either a) bake according to a recipe or b) risk another experiment that turns out not-quite-right if I continue making  it up as I go along. Guess which route I'm going to take!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

wild foods (aka sourdough bread)

I recently went to a book signing and talk on fermentation at Banyan Books. The author in question is Sandor Katz, the Kraut guy. I found him to be very informative and entertaining, and I got one of his books, "Wild Fermentation, The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods".

Therefore the experiment of the week: sourdough bread.

This is the starter I made:

2 boiled potatoes, which I mashed in their own water
2 cups unbleached whole wheat flour (it could be any unbleached flour)
1/2 cup unpasteurized honey
2 tsp salt

I mixed it and put it into a glass casserole dish with a lid (lacking a crock). I have let it sit on the kitchen counter where it has done its thing, getting quite bubbly and sweet and yeasty smelling after 2-3 days.

Yesterday, I took a cupful or so of the starter and made a whole-wheat, millet loaf. It turned out pretty well, considering. I think I was a bit impatient in letting the cooked millet cool, so perhaps added it to my dough when it was a bit too warm. That might have killed the yeast a bit. The resulting loaf rose fairly slowly and the texture of the bread in the end was a little heavy with big pockets of air running through it, rather like swiss cheese. Obviously, I need to revive my long-dormant bread-making skills and be a bit more patient with the process next time.

In the meantime, whenever I have only about a cupful of starter left, I feed it another cupful of water and flour. I give the whole thing a stir with a wooden spoon every couple of days. Pretty much any yeasted bread recipe you like can be made with the starter as the substitute for the yeast: pancakes, muffins, French bread, sourdough rolls, injera....(oooh, injera! more on that later)

update: uprisings (aka first seedlings)

The mini choi seedlings coming up a few days ago... look like this!

Seedlings of pot marigold making an appearance. I have to confess I haven't had the courage yet to place the "insect beacon" pots out on the ledge outside the balcony as planned. I suspect that the whim will strike one of these days, perhaps when I'm assured that the flower seeds I've planted have taken and I've thinned them as necessary.

The blueberry, Vaccinium x "Chippewa', is a bit earlier than my other blueberry, 'Patriot'. The blooms are just about to open. Now all we need are a few bees to pollinate the flowers, and soon we'll have fruit!

Here betwixt and between the tarragon, mizuna, and kale, the experiment in "eating your veg and planting them too": can you see the green onions? Leaving an inch or so of the onion attached to the root end and popping it into the soil works like a dream. The seedlings are those of chervil.

Here, the Winsor beans are also showing some green. I'm still regretting that I didn't start them last fall. Oh well.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

the telephone and how to be awol without guilt

The phone rang today while I was catching up on my reading. At first, I felt terribly guilty for ignoring it and silencing the ringer. You wouldn't think I was still -- after all this time -- capable of being yanked about by other people's expectations, but I am.  Long ago, I was rather proud of my ability to ignore the phone -- much to annoyance of some who expected me to be available and at their beck and call, day or night.

What kind of tyranny do we allow ourselves to submit to? That's it, exactly. Despite answering machines, messaging abilities, etc., we still feel compelled to answer the phone, no matter how important the task we might be involved in, or how dangerous answering the phone might be in that precise moment.

Don't believe me? Maybe you don't feel it, but I've been left feeling enormously guilty when I choose to ignore the phone in the midst of popping up a batch of stove-top popcorn, no matter how hazardous interrupting that activity might be (and not for the reason of the mere satisfaction of my popcorn addiction, obviously.)

For many reasons -- not the least of which being the importance of fragrant, fresh-out-of-the-pot stove-top popcorn -- one shouldn't try to pop a batch of stove-top popcorn if there is a chance of being interrupted! It's a safety concern of course. And, besides, it doesn't take long, a few minutes at most! So, is it unreasonable to be unavailable for 5 minutes?

I'm sorry if this is a rant, but it's my perhaps over the top reaction to my unhealthy need to be nice.

So, I realized today that my reading is my work. Many work-places actively discourage personal phone calls to and from their employees while at work. So, why should I be any different in my own work-place, ie my home if it is, for all intents and purposes, my work-place!

Not everybody finds this balancing act as difficult as I do, of course. But I realized and I am again re-iterating my right to claim my time as my own and I can always check the messages left and deal with them later, when I am not working!

mysteries unfolding

Hah! After a couple of days of glorious sunshine accompanied by somewhat damaging winds, my unprotected pot of mystery seedlings (due to my vague record-keeping) is the first -- the first! -- out of the gate and has sprouted some seedlings. Who wants to place bets on what they might be?
   a. toy choi
   b. chervil
   c. something else altogether

And here's evidence of the effect of the winds. A bamboo wind-chime given to me by my friend Melody has chafed itself to a partial disintegration. Fortunately, the rest of the wind-chime is still intact and I can restring this bit and tie it back in.

Meanwhile, the kale and mizuna are putting on vigorous growth and begging to have a leaf or two stolen for inclusion in a meal soon. What shall I make? A salad? An Asian-inspired noodle bowl?

Saturday, March 16, 2013


So I noticed I'm lazy! Not news to some, I'm sure! Still, I'm all for making life easier if possible without falling into the trap of enslaving future generations to gratify my wants (dumping the real costs of environmental degradation on my grandchildren and great-grandchildren).

But the problem is watering. To keep my Balcony PermacultureFood Forest watered has thus far required several way, way too many trips back and forth to the kitchen sink to refill the milk jug that serves for now as my watering can. (Those who remember my previous gardens will wonder at that, but I got rid of nearly all my tools and accessories when I moved across the country from Ontario to British Columbia nearly 3 years ago.)

I'm ok with making one trip if it's like ... super-efficient, but realize there's only so much I can physically carry on that trip from the kitchen sink to the balcony.

I've toyed with some sort of hose that will reach from sink to balcony, but other than the shopping channel's collapsible hose version, I've found nothing that grabs me yet in my vague attempts at browzing through the garden centres, etc., locally. Plus, I'm kind of averse to buying another plastic thing created from petro-chemicals and shipped from who knows where.

So, I'm into scavenging. I think that at least is better than encouraging somebody to make more crap to crap up our environment when somebody decides it's garbage.

Here's where the internet comes to the rescue. Here are some of the ideas I've gleaned by roaming around and that I think I may be able to adapt to my own situation.

A way to connect multiple buckets, such as I have, to a water butt:

And then there's the buckets themselves, which I can envision making more environmentally friendly by using materials like gravel, seashells (instead of two buckets), and bamboo (for the down-pipe), all fairly easy for me to obtain locally. No need to double-bucket. I can instead use a single bucket, or even better a clay pot, gravel on bottom, straw or landscape fabric to keep soil in place and lengths of bamboo instead of pvc pipe (which has huge issues).

Of course, I realize I have already put the cart before the horse. Besides having many perennial plants in my pots, I have also started planting seeds for this year's annual crops. If I am going to have a self-watering system, I am going to have to retro-fit what I have somehow. Hmmmmm.

I'm going to have to think about the design and materials and whether it's worth it to risk damaging the perennials and re-seeding the rest to retrofit the pots I have! Aaaargh!

seeding aka jumping the gun, 4

The next two pots are the break-away pots. I haven't had the courage yet to put them out onto the stone-covered ledge outside the boundaries of my balcony, even though the vote was overwhelmingly to do so! They are fairly small square plastic (?) pots from Canadian Tire, approximately 14 inches by 14 inches.

The first has a fuchsia in it that is hardy in this area. (I'll have to find out which fuchsia it is as I've forgotten.) At its feet there is a small English thyme which I may or may not move, as it would be difficult to harvest if it's  living outside the balcony railing. Also at the feet of the fuchsia, I seeded some calendula aka pot marigold.

The other square pot will also be another Insect Beacon. A lavender already lives in it, and I seeded it with some dill ("Dukat") and California Poppies. I'll also add some Verbena "Brazilian" to it later for height.

So what does it look like now? Here's a picture:

The herbs in the little window box will probably not continue to live there. I hope to find a better box/basket arrangement for the balcony railing to which they will be moved. The window box may end up living over a fish-tank in the future.

seeding aka jumping the gun, 3

The next pot down will later be another tomato (did I say I love tomatoes?), so now, another white plastic restaurant-sized food-container pot is planted with broad Winsor beans and arugula. I think broad beans planted in the fall would have been a better timing for things, but -- ah well. So this is where they will live for now:

The next pot is another black pot from Canadian Tire. Into it I planted "mange tout" peas, aka "Snow Green" snow peas. They will be followed by another tomato.

And this is how it looks so far. Don't you love my view? If you lift your eyes over the rooftops, the view is better, trust me! On a clear day, I can see Vancouver Island across the Georgia Strait. Really!

On that balcony railing I am hoping to put a hanging planting box/bag that will house herbs and some colourful flowers.

seeding aka jumping the gun, 2

In this lovely black plastic pot from Canadian Tire, I had the tarragon re-emerging from last summer, and some mizuna and Black Lacinato Italian Kale, both going gang-busters despite having been cut back (aka harvested) a few times even during the winter for a few greens. There was a languishing perennial spinach and a volunteer stinging nettle which I decided to consign to the worm bin.

I read about how it's possible to regrow green onions from the root tips, so I popped a couple in a gap to see what would happen.  Here's where my vague record- keeping is already coming to bite me in the butt! I think I planted some Toy Choi in the wee gap. Or perhaps it was some chervil!

In the next pot, a white plastic scavenged restaurant-sized food bucket (thanks to Youngest Daughter), I kept some self-seeded perennial spinach, and added some "Toy Choi" Pak Choi -- at least I'm pretty certain that's what I did. The plan is to harvest that and plant out the tomatoes later once the weather warms up.

Minus the mushroom (shiitake) kit, this (above) is what the plantings look like thus far.

seeding aka jumping the gun

I can't help it. I see the buds busting out on the blueberry bushes on the balcony, the tarragon pushing upwards and I start to get excited!

So off I went to the local nursery and bought seeds (plus a meyer lemon tree) and spent way more than I really needed to. Impatience is expensive and lonely as there are many local seed-swaps that I could have participated in if I had been smarter!

However, this is what I have planted thus far:

This is a space atop the worm bin and instead of the vague mushroom log I envisioned, I found this mushroom kit for shiitake mushrooms at Homesteader's Emporium. It lives for now in a plastic pot atop a dinner plate, but I'm sure I'll find a nicer house for it soon. 

And if you like referring to the base plan, this is where the worm bin and the plants etc atop it live in relation to the rest of the Balcony Permaculture Food Forest:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

the base map -- sort of

So, as I already mentioned, this was the winning design.

This is the base-line design which I'm using to diagram the various elements and energies that affect the Balcony Permaculture Food Forest, everything from sun and wind, to noise and views.

A fascinating and distracting part of this process has been to visit my local civic mapping site. Each city probably has one. The many layers that interested me were the transit routes and stops, bicycle paths and parkways, sewage, water mains, and services like community centres and libraries.

This is partly to satisfy the requirements of my Permaculture Design Course:
"This open creative mapping project looks deeply into your home and surrounding areas. Include a base map noting all the elements on your land including identifying plants and animals as well as doing a permaculture zone map and series of sector maps charting the flow of energy onto, and off of, the property. Those with more time might consider history of the landclimatological info for the region, as well as neighbourhoodcommunity and bioregional maps."

Friday, February 22, 2013

going rogue

So, after long absences, I am attempting to get back to writing here and sharing with those of you (dear to me) readers who are -- if not exactly interested -- curious about what I am doing and what I might be thinking. Let's see what happens!

I am trying very hard to stay on course and complete the readings and assignments of my Permaculture Course, as well as trying not to be fascinated by the distracting updates on twitter or facebook, visiting odd and intriguing sites around the topics that interest me, continuing my reading on Ecological Economics.

Just so I'm as honest as I can be with you, I attended exactly one class on Ecological Economics (via VillageVancouver), but found it over my head, especially as I couldn't imagine how, with my shaky grasp of the subject(s), I could possibly make any positive contribution to the projects which were to be the focus of the 6-month course, ie specific projects focused on participating in local, provincial and national governance, hearings, etc in issues us environmentalists find dear to our hearts.

So back to my Permaculture Design Course, the one with which I am more or less on course. The big one in terms of assignments is the mapping and design project on our own space.

I live in a condo in an iffy regenerating part of the disreputable growing city of Surrey. 'nough said? Oh there's probably more. I get riled up about the design plans for my area, particularly the plan to lose the dozens of beautiful mature trees in this corner of the city.

As so far, my absolute favorite class has been the one on trees (guaranteed to hear more from me on trees later!), I mourn the loss of the trees and what they contribute to our environment.

But again, I digress. My mapping project started like this. It represents a legal possible design that stays within the confines of my balcony. A provoking sugggestion from one of my friends made me consider going rogue and expanding to the rock-blanketed ledge that goes around the building outside the perimeter of my condo unit (and therefore also outside the actual boundaries -- real and imagined -- of my personal balcony!)

So here's the possibly illegal rogue design that takes advantage of the borrowed space on the ledge outside my balcony:
I submitted these designs to an informal vote for my friends on facebook and those who thought it interesting enough to vote opted for the rogue design! So there you have it, folks. That's the design I'm submitting for my Permaculture Design Course.

More details and progress to follow.Stay tuned (for when I possibly run afoul of strata rules and am taken away to jail??)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


"Because the relationship between self and world is reciprocal, it is not a matter of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the Earth, the Earth heals us."~~Joanna Macy

I want this post to be one of gratitude! Through my permie course, I am getting to know an amazing group of people with a diverse range of experiences and viewpoints. They are also hooking me up with super-interesting (I acknowledge that assessment is relative to my personal point of view) resources and happenings around the city and around the world.

So here in random order is some of the stuff they have helped me find or expand my knowledge of:

Songza, now a regular part of the sound-track to my day when I'm home, working, reading, working out, checking out updates on twitter and facebook, daydreaming, knitting, cooking or whatever. (note strange omission of housework)

Occupy Love, awesome documentary about a new paradigm for a post-peak-oil world

the kraut guy, the guru of fermented foods, Sandor Katz.

a new appreciation of kale

anticipation of tea with Toby as often as possible (the amazing golden bird -- more on her later)

mushroom expert, Paul Stamets:

Joanna Macy, deep ecology, buddhist thought and environmental activism

Toby Hemenway and permaculture as a design approach that fits into a larger philosophy and approach

Charles Eisenstein and Sacred Economics, a short film by Ian MacKenzie and more information about Charles Eisenstein's ideas

local currencies and seed stock

The biggest thing the group is helping me personally with is letting go of the anger I've been carrying around for a while at the state of things in the world and the agony of grief I've been experiencing for the loss of our natural environments. This group is giving me hope that there is a tipping point, that as our world of peak-oil collapses, there is a way, a design strategy and an energy of positivity, inclusiveness, sharing and growth that is already happening!