Are You Ready for the Present?

For the last few years, I’ve been introducing my classes on climate change with a line like, “You know how you’ve spent your whole lives hearing that climate change is really going to be a problem for our children, and so we should really do something about it?  Well, it’s been 20 years.  You ARE those children, and this is the world that everyone was worried about.”  Poor students take a few weeks to adjust to that new reality!

I’ve spent a few days weirded out by my own adjustment to the new reality this week.  Since the middle of 2014, I’ve been waiting for the repeat of 2008/9; not with any specific deadline in mind, just knowing that the economy was going to crash again before the “recovery” was complete.  Sure enough, in the second half of 2014, oil prices started dropping.  Then the Albertan, Canadian and other oil economies started to feel the pain.  How long would it take before the stock market collapsed and the recession began?  As long as the powers that be can keep it going, apparently (not a coordinated conspiracy, just that the 1% that benefits so much from keeping the ship afloat that it keeps the money circulating as long as possible).

So the world economy is teetering on the edge, and the edge gets closer every day.  Greece is bankrupt and headed to default, Puerto Rico is bankrupt, China’s bubble is bursting.

In the meantime, we’re in the hottest year ever, both globally and locally here on the West Coast.  In my area, we’ve had the driest spring on record, leading into the warmest May and June on record.  July and August are normally hot, drought months, and in recent years that’s been true for September and often October as well.  We’re irrigating our lush, vibrant veggies and fruit, strategically watering the rest where we want to keep something alive, and letting some things die.  We had a terrible broody hen hatch, with only one surviving chick, which I’m blaming on the heat.  All the heat and dry ground is bringing constant fires.  On the news, our provincial fire service reported that they expect 30 new fires to start each day…indefinitely.

Our land is literally burning up.  The skies are a strange, surreal shade of rosy grey; our air quality as bad as Beijing.  At least the smoke is keeping the temperature down a little, though!  And living by the water, we’re starting to get enough wind to have the grey skies turn slightly toward blue from their creepy red…

Adaptation’s a bitch.  Preparing for the future is one thing.  Experiencing the reality is something else all together.  There’s this attitude among doomers and preppers (I try not to count myself among these, although the line blurs sometimes) that we just have to get our food storage ready, make our gardens productive, stock up on gas and propane, and we’ll be an island of calm in the middle of everyone else’s chaos.  It’s the Rapture fantasy, you know–we’ll be rescued by God because of our virtue while everyone else burns in hell.  But it doesn’t really work that way, of course.

Psychologically, it’s a very strange feeling to watch a slow, global collapse while also going about your daily life as normal.  Chop wood, carry water while the world crumbles around you.  I don’t live in Greece…yet.  The economic crises are at a distance, until the construction work dries up around here for the Skipper, which I expect to happen over the next year.  And even through 2009, he managed to keep working, more or less steadily, so that could still happen again.  My job is secure until we become like Greece, which I don’t expect to be in the short term.  We continue to make plans to reduce our housing costs and increase our security of access to land.

The ecological collapse is another story.  I feel a bit queasy already about buying and eating fish this year; in theory we’re getting ready for our bulk Sockeye purchase.  But the rivers are so low, the oceans so warm…our stocks aren’t going to hold up much longer, and it feels wrong to fish them now.  We’ll have enough water to get through our veggie growing season (I hope), but then it’s all about how much rain we get this winter.  And all the ash in the air?  It’s ok for the soil–maybe even good for the soil.  Not good for anyone’s respiratory systems (including the animals).  All food prices will be going up, and even the local supply is more vulnerable.

I’m doing my best to be stoic, to be Zen, to be flexible, and I try to remind myself of my MANY blessings each day.  But living through interesting times is a very strange feeling.  Nothing seems reliable or predictable, there’s a disconnect between what’s going on in the wider world and what’s going on in my local community.  Everything seems a mix of joy and fear.  I’m nervous.  And aware that there’s only so much adapting and preparing that’s possible; that one day it might well be me that’s joining the line of refugees leaving a home that’s no longer inhabitable.

So I think I’m Back

So, ummm….yeah.  Hi!  It’s been a while.  Almost 2 years!  That went by fast.

From the outside, not much has changed.  Skipper and I are still here on our small homestead.  We are still growing food, still raising chickens.  I’m still teaching; he’s still building.  But on the inside…well.  Did I mention that I turned 40?  I told a friend the other day, “I’m not exactly sure what happened, but somehow, between the years of 39 and 42, I feel like I’ve become a totally different person!”  Ok, not really.  I’ve read through some of my old posts in preparation for coming back online, and I was pleasantly surprised that I am actually quite consistent in my values and voice.  Kinda neat to see.

But the last couple of years have felt like both a huge and deep process of re-learning who am I in the world (and who I would like to be) and a huge, deeply satisfying shedding of beliefs, fears, and habits that I’ve been carrying for the last 20 years.  I’ve questioned and wrestled with life, death, and Everything over the past few years.  And, of course, the journey isn’t over.  But I’m feeling like I’m ready to embrace my voice as it is now, to really step forward.  And blogging again feels like the right way to do that.

When last I was writing, I was also still wrestling with the implications of my research into serious climate change and resource scarcity.  I taught my course on these issues for 3 years, and worked through the issues again and again alongside my students.  It feels like it’s taken these last years to really work through my fear, the implications, more fear and grief, practical considerations…and to some degree, come out the other side.  That’s not a process that’s over either, of course, but I feel like I’ve regained my footing in the world as it is, and I have some conclusions to share in the weeks and years to come.

I’ve also, in these last years, spent a huge amount of time online, reading other people’s blogs.  It’s been sad to see some favorite blogs go dormant and wonderful to discover some new ones.  I feel like I was part of an explosion of women’s voices online in the blogosphere there for a while.  And then, I suspect, many of us had to face the blogging crossroads: maintaining an active, well-produced, beautifully photographed, regularly contributed to blog is equivalent to a part-time (at least!) job.  So for some, it became one.  For others, it had to end.  But I’m also seeing a new, middle ground open up, and I’m hoping that’s where this will take me now: a spontaneously contributed to (we’ll see if a pattern emerges 🙂 ), occasionally photographed, but still read and valued comfortable space.  I do so much reading of other people’s blogs that it seems only fair I start contributing again.

And, all of that reading and thinking has helped me to feel a little more concrete about my purpose here.  When I started the blog, I was under-employed and interested in free-lance writing, particularly about food and our local food movement.  Then I started thinking seriously about farming and other career possibilities.  Then my job stabilized, then I started going more deeply into sustainability…

But now I see a new need, a space that needs more voices.  It’s the space I’m in right now: inhabiting and embracing the messy balancing act of life on the so-called “undulating plateau” of this Transition time on the domestic front lines.  It’s the space that women traditionally occupy: the home, the garden, the home economics, our relationships and emotions.  But I’m (possibly like you) navigating all these through the deeply conflicted pull between environmental sustainability and the requirements of daily life in the industrial economy.  I think we need more women online talking about what this life really looks like, in all of its untidy, stretched-thin, emotional, financial, and time challenges.  It would be great to feel more solidarity around the trade-offs and the imperfections, while continuing to find the beauty and the creativity and to celebrate the resourcefulness.  I’ve decided that if I would like to see more of this online, then I’d better start by sharing my own stuff.  Here goes!

My Canadian Budget Lament

Okay. So I suspect that few of my readers are paying very close attention to the Canadian Federal budget that came out on Thursday. And, truthfully, with a Conservative government in power at the moment, whose values and basic ideological premises are very far from my own, I have been somewhat disengaged from Canadian politics these days. My own political views are pretty entrenched, and I’m just hoping that the Conservatives don’t do too much damage in the short term.

But I’ve been reading a recent series on the history and concept of Empires by John Michael Greer over at the Archdruid Report, and I couldn’t help but be struck and saddened by the pattern that is emerging.

Greer has spent the last few weeks outlining what characterizes an empire, whether British, Roman, or American. To greatly oversimplify, an empire is defined by its desire for expansion and growth, which of course means that the raw materials feeding that growth disappear quickly from the local area. New territories are needed, and usually conquered through military action, to provide the natural resources that will continue to feed the growth at home.

The plantation model of colonialism, where a small, elite group of colonists oversee the exploitation of large numbers of locals in service of massive cash crops for export (think cotton, tea, chocolate, coffee, bananas), Greer defines as the “‘wealth pump.” The wealth pump sucks all the wealth OUT of the local area and funnels it back to the motherland.

The archetypal examples of this model, like Africa today, or Latin America at the end of the 19th century, are easy to see. What’s less obvious at times is the way this has played out in countries that are not usually categorized as “developing” (such an ugly word when we look through this lens!). Greer points out that, really, any country that is not the current superpower has to align itself along the wealth pump in one way or another. Canada, for instance, in NAFTA, sucks wealth out of Mexico to be funnelled home, but then in turn exports its natural resources at a great rate of knots out to the US and China.

Greer sets all of this up to make a significant point about the current environmental unsustainability of empires. He calls it the “empire of time.” America’s expansion, you see, has relied not only on a spatial consumption of resources (from territorial expansion), but also on fossil fuels, which are, of course, ancient deposits of carbon from life gone by. The wealth pump has been sucking up resources not just from places, but from the past.

These images of the wealth pump and the empire of time were in the forefront of my consciousness when I listened to the details of the Canadian budget being handed down.  I can’t help but think that the political elite in this country, as elsewhere, is simply focused on its own current wealth pump, which is sucking out the resources of the future for the gain of those in power at the present.

A couple of examples stand out for me: the focus on oil and gas extraction over environmental protection, and the move to delay access to government retirement benefits from age 65 to age 67.

It’s no secret that this government’s values are based in “The West”, which is a euphemism for allied with resource-based economies (as opposed to the manufacturing economies of central Canada, which have been devastated by the economic transformations of the last few years).  Among the goodies for resource businesses in the budget: a shortened and “streamlined” environmental review process and a time limit of 24 months for that process to take place and a decision to be made.  This is in direct response to the more than 4000 people who signed up to voice their position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline; if all those were to be heard, the process would take significantly longer than those in charge would like.  But the government is also continuing to gut their ministries of environment and other scientific agencies who simply research and report on environmental impacts and the climate changes being currently charted–they are eliminating the pools of data that could be used to argue against their policies.

This is the wealth pump unconcerned with the future, and focused only on what produces the most wealth for the present.  I’ve had young people point out to me recently how short-sighted this is: by definition, these jobs in the non-renewable resource industry are NOT renewable!  So in 20, 30, 40 years, we will have a generation of young men (mostly), who have spent the most active years of their lives in jobs that will disappear just before they would be ready to retire from them, with little to retrain for, and with no other local economy to keep viable communties intact.  For anyone living in BC, this is a familiar picture–the devastation of communities left behind when logging or fishing economies disappear isn’t pretty.

To make matters worse, the government has also decided to move the age of access to retirement benefits (Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement, both introduced decades ago to alleviate desperate poverty levels among seniors, particularly women) from 65 to 67.  Now, on the surface, this doesn’t seem unreasonable; after all, we are living longer and healthier lives than we were back in the day when these programs were introduced.  And of course, “financial times have changed” and we need to make sure that the system remains “sustainable for future generations.”

Can you say bullsh*t?

While Greece and other nations may well be in financial crisis that require desperate measures to stave off short-term bankruptcy, Canada is not.  In fact, the reason for the current “challenging economic landscape” is the Conservatives themselves.  One of the first things they did when they took office was cut the Goods and Services tax by 1 and then 2 %.  Then they cut corporate taxes and income taxes.  One economist months ago pointed out that if the GST went up 1%, THERE WOULDN’T BE A DEFICIT.

But under the rhetoric of “keeping money in the pockets of the individual to make the best choices for themselves and their families,” the government made sure that the wealth pump kept churning out the cash for big business and the most wealthy.  Sorry, but by keeping the extra $300 or so dollars a year in my pocket?  I can’t improve my healthcare options, send children to a national subsidized daycare system, or retrofit my home with solar panels to relieve pressure on the hydro grid.  But now, of course, the Conservatives have an excuse to shrink government in order to “grow the economy”.

So the problem here is twofold.  One, the shift to the later retirement benefits dates kicks in for those 54 years old today and younger.  So that generation with non-renewable jobs that will disappear? They will be the same ones who are struggling and in need of benefits down the line.  And if the federal benefits aren’t there, the provinces will be shouldering the burden in the healthcare, retraining, mental health and conmunity support expenses down the line.  My future earnings are being pumped into the present gaping hungry maw.

But it’s the bigger picture that’s most disturbing for me.  Once the oil is gone, you see, what will we have left to rely on?  Imagine if infrastructure of all kinds continues to crumble, or simply becomes too expensive for you to access.  Look to Greece or Ireland for contemporary examples.  Political instability, food and gas that’s too expensive to afford, high inflation, no jobs.  What would you do?  Well, young people in both of those countries are either leaving to go elsewhere to work (if that’s an option, which is by no means certain) or going back to the family land to try to eke out a living.  In Europe, the second is an option only because families still have traditional lands to go back to.  In North America, that tradition doesn’t exist.

My point is that when the empire of time and territory ceases to support us–and that day is looking precariously close to my eyes at the moment--all we have left is nature.  When we can’t buy food or water, we will need nature to provide it for us.  And all the reskilling in the world isn’t going to help us if hydro-fracking has poisoned the water, or if all the arable land has been paved over for housing.  It’s all very well for the wealth pump to be sucking Northern Alberta dry now, but when the oil is gone and the landscape is uninhabitable, then what?

So I am heartbroken, considering my future, as my government chooses short-term gain.  And though I believe that these examples that civilization will not sustain itself do open opportunities to reinvent the system, they also means that I am looking at the localization movement  and its economics in a whole new light–as the only thing that might sustain us by the time I need to retire.

Putting my Money where my Mouth is

After my last post, I started thinking about our spending inconsistencies.  I gave up on the idea of being an ethically perfect consumer a long time ago, and I’ve accepted that we cannot live in an industrialized world and not live an industrialized life at any level.  However, thinking about our 5 dollar eggs–a bargain to us and just plain unaffordable for many–got me thinking about other areas of our spending where we still suffer sticker shock and look for the “bargain”, choosing to overlook the reasons why the cheaper product is so much less expensive.

I don’t know how all these things are interconnected, but I’m grateful that we seem to be entering a time of more financial security.  My job is finally stabilizing after many years of being contingent and unpredictable.  We recently received a small, unexpected, windfall that allowed us to pay off the biggest chunk of the debt that we have slowly accrued over the last few years.  Psychologically I no longer feel that I need to pay such desperate attention to the bottom line.

So maybe that’s why I’m finally getting the lesson that I’ve read so often but never fully, viscerally, grasped: the old adage, “we can’t afford to buy cheap.”

A few weeks ago, it came time to replace one of our vehicles.  Skipper had been nursing his 2000 second-hand Chevy Venture-with-all-the-seats-gone “work truck” for more months than we had dared hope.  We had wrestled with what to do to replace it; did we prioritize fuel economy and price and just buy a beater that cost pennies to run but might suck up time and money to maintain?  Did we spend less now and then have to replace another vehicle in a year or two?  Did we get a more practical homestead truck even though the commuter fuel economy might not be there?  Did we buy something new even though it would mean taking on debt?  We went around in circles for months.

Finally, with the small windfall taking care of a big debt, we decided to invest in a new small pick-up: a 2011 Toyota Tacoma that gets better mileage than the van, and that Skipper can drive for the next ten+ years.  It should have felt scary to sign the papers, but instead it feels great.  We’ve invested in quality, we haven’t spent more than we can afford, and we haven’t been “penny-wise, pound-foolish”, making the decision on the short term bank balance over long term value.

Yesterday afternoon, I decided I wanted to go shopping for some new clothes.  I don’t do that very often, but 2-3 times a year, I take stock of what I need and do a big buy of staple pieces.  Aside from underwear and t-shirts, the last time I bought clothes for work was at last year’s boxing week sales, and I’ve been feeling like I’m wearing the same 2 pairs of pants and 2 sweaters every day.  As it gets colder, my choices have felt more limited, and suddenly the winter months ahead are looking dreary, style-wise!

So after work, I headed out to a mall to consider my options.  I went through all of my usual haunts, but left them all unsatisfied, not even trying anything on.  I was looking for another pair of warm pants and another sweater, but EVERYTHING I looked at was made of acrylic and polyester.  I realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I know if I buy that attractive acrylic sweater, I’m going to sweat when I wear it, and after 2 weeks, it will be covered in pills and I won’t wear it again.  And it’s not like I was cheaping out–anything that looked appropriate for my age and profession was still close to $100.  And, of course, the frustrating thing about buying most women’s clothing is that all of it is made overseas in questionable conditions, no matter how much you spend.

So I headed to the department store in the mall and started browsing through the designer labels–something I NEVER do, assuming that I can’t afford anything.  I finally found 2 lines that actually had sweaters made with natural fibers: Ralph Lauren and Jones New York.  Both had attractive sweaters made of actual wool and/or cotton, and to my surprise, the prices weren’t really that much more, especially with some sales on.  I bought 2 cardigans and a merino turtleneck.  Can you tell it’s been threatening snow? 🙂

Perhaps my biggest surprise was how unfazed I felt about the decision to spend more to get better quality.  I wasn’t looking for bargains, I was looking for what I wanted.  Because I finally clued in that the wardrobe that I’ve been relying on this winter so far is made up of staple pieces that I have worn for more than a year already and that still look good.  They are not disposable.  And just like with our groceries, I don’t shop regularly.  If I invest in good staples, I don’t have to throw them out and get more, and the simple fact that I don’t have to go into a mall every month saves me money over the long term.

And you know what else?  Just like with the garden, and the truck, shopping for clothes this way actually REMOVES from my life something that would otherwise require regular mental attention. Making decisions based on quality means I spend less time tied up in knots over making decisions.  Yep, I’m reducing stress and freeing up time to spend doing other things.

I was talking to a friend the other day, who had spent some time that weekend with people who were uber-green and frugal.  “They even buy all their clothes at thrift stores!” she exclaimed.  “I just am not willing to do that!”

We talked about the fact that when we make changes in our habits because we feel we have to, or out of fear or guilt, those changes just don’t take.  But it’s amazing how when you make choices based on joy, there is an inevitable ripple effect, and before you know it, you’re changing all kinds of habits without even noticing.  The more I go down this green path, the more I can see that making choices based on joy is the only way to go, perhaps the only way we’re going to get meaningful social change in the world.

I know we still have many inconsistencies between how we live and how we would like to live.  We commute, we live in a larger house than two people really need, we use too much electricity, and we often forget to bring our re-usable shopping bags to the store.  But we are *really* happy.  And the changes keep rippling through.  We shop less and less.  We eat better and better.  We’re investing in infrastructure and thinking in lifetime cycles instead of marketing cycles.  I feel more and more creative and resourceful–the opposite of how advertising is designed to make us feel, and a rebellion in and of itself.  We spend more time on our most important relationships, and feel less guilty about all the things we’re NOT doing.  I’m more focused on forgiveness and acceptance than on anxiety about the unknown and the out-of-my-control.  And as a result, the future has never felt so peaceful.

So how about you?  Are you making changes through joy, without even noticing?  Are you way ahead of me on being frugal by spending more, less often?


Food Prices and the Garden

“$5 a dozen?!”
“You should have seen her eyebrows shoot up!” laughed my friend over the phone. She was asking her Mom if she’d like to buy some eggs from me. Despite my friend’s supportive enthusiasm for the idea, I don’t think her parents will be our next customers. 🙂 That’s ok.

It’s been an interesting few weeks thinking about the price of food.

On the whole, we’re not doing the food production thing to save money. That’s especially clear from our choice to purchase organic chicken feed and scratch (treats) at 30-50% more than a locally produced, high-quality (even non-GMO) feed. It’s also clear by our choice to build new raised beds from cedar, build a chicken coop with mostly new materials, build cedar compost bins, etc. There are MUCH cheaper ways to do all these things, but we have the luxury of outside work, and so expense is not our first criteria (though maybe second!).

At the same time, when I first got the idea to try to produce as much of our own food as possible, part of my motive was to see how much of a dent that would put in our monthly expenses. At the time, the equation of fewer expenses=fewer hours spent working for money seemed clear and important. That first summer, I was unemployed, on EI for half of my regular income, and we reduced our food expenses dramatically. What I learned was how many non-food related expenses we had! I went back to work.

As I’ve focused on food production for reasons other than financial though, something interesting has definitely happened: we’re spending far less money on food.  But it’s not because we’re managing to produce everything we could possibly need–I’m certainly not growing or grinding our own flour, and there are no milk goats in sight (yet).  The biggest reason we’re saving?  We’re not going into the grocery store.

If I ever needed proof that shopping in stores means you always leave having spent more than you intended, I’ve got it now.  Our pantry is full: we have potatoes, vegetables, some fruit, and eggs from the garden, we have cases of  tuna and maple syrup sourced through friends; the freezer is full of seafood.   When we need to go to the store it’s for something specific: milk, bread, flour, nuts.   Which means that rather than doing a once-a-week shopping trip together, we just stop at the most convenient store and pick up the thing we need.  Instead of coming out with a bill for hundreds of dollars, it’s often just $20 here and there.

Beyond this unexpected frugality, I’m slowly realizing that the garden has been insulating us from dramatically rising food costs.  In fact, where I used to track prices regularly at the grocery store, because I pay less attention these days, I’ve only just been clueing in about what most people have probably been anxiously watching for many months.  You just don’t get what you used to for the same money.   But because we’re producing so many of our own staples, those increases have not had a major impact on our overall budget, thank goodness.

So is the garden saving us money?  Is it cheaper to produce your own?  I’m sure that if we were to calculate the money spent on soil, raising chicks for 6 months before they start laying, etc, we are NOT producing our own for less than the grocery store.  But once those infrastructure costs are removed from memory, day-to-day we are definitely saving money.  When January hits and the traditional “hunger gap” begins until May crops begin to produce, we will notice it.  I am highly motivated to keep working on our year-round supplies!

At the same time, it was an odd experience to realize over the last few weeks that the idea of spending $5 on a dozen organic eggs was just too much for some to wrap their heads around–or just plain unaffordable for others.  It was the first time I thought about food prices from the producer side.  It’s all very well for us to put as much money as we have into our food production; we’re not trying to make a profit or any income.  A basic calculation showed that a dozen eggs costs us about $4.25 just for feed; $5 seemed a fair price to account for all the other costs (and a nice round number substantially cheaper than the $6.40 currently charged for organic, free-range eggs at the grocery store).  But when it comes to selling, the old adage is still true: it’s only worth what someone else is willing to pay.

But all of this has me thinking again about whether food is, or should be, a commodity.  The garden has profoundly changed my typical sense of myself as a food “consumer” (in the monetary sense).  But that doesn’t remove food from still being something that we buy and sell and will likely always need to use as a means of exchange.  Once again, transforming my relationship with food is transforming how I feel like I fit into the wider world…And it’s sure fun wondering where that might take me next!


I Need a New Cookbook

This is the time of year when I remember what it really feels like to eat seasonally out of the garden.  It’s a roller coaster!

First, there’s the anticipation.  We gardeners wait–seemingly forever–for that blossom to turn into a blueberry or strawberry or raspberry.  There is joy when it finally looks like an actual food, but then we wait interminably for that fruit to ripen.  And then suddenly, the first two are ready.  And they taste SOOOO good.  The burst flavour that hasn’t been tasted in a year, the memories that come flooding back.  There’s nothing like the taste of a season beginning.

And then the crop starts to ripen en masse.  At first there’s a gorging, a true sense of abundance.  We eat everything raw, or just lightly steamed, usually with butter, sometimes with a little herb or lemon or olives for extra flavour.  But then, the combination of the day starts to feel stale.  How many ways can I eat broccoli, peas, and cabbage?

And I start reaching for my cookbooks.  And there are always a few good recipes.  But then I feel dissatisfied by the books.  Sure, a recipe might feature broccoli, but it also calls for peppers or squash.  Or something else that I would have to go to the store to buy or that isn’t in season.  Or it’s a recipe for a really traditional slow food recipe that takes hours to prepare.  It’s July!  I don’t want to cook or spend time in the kitchen!

So here’s what I need.

I need a big, fat cookbook.  One that focuses exclusively on eating out of a realistic garden year round.  One that uses ONLY ingredients that are available at the same time, with a few other staples (rice, pasta, eggs etc) that would realistically be in an ordinary pantry.  AND it needs to have 10-15 recipes for each vegetable that is easy to produce in the garden! I mean, we’ve got weeks of cabbage left before the beans and tomatoes kick in!  I’m looking for a helpmate and handbook to truly eating out of the garden all year.

There are a spate of “farm to table” cookbooks out there.  But so far, the ones I’ve looked at feature all of about 6 recipes per season!  And those recipes are either complicated and not for everyday quick dinners, or they are really basic (tomato sauce? Really?), or they are for how to preserve a bounteous ingredient.

I need a book that gives me ideas, pictures, inspiration, realism, and ease.  Families are busy, adults are working full-time jobs, and the garden is the passion that takes up the rest of the hours of the day.  But at the same time, we’re doing this for the food!  It’s a joy and a privilege and needs to be celebrated.  Ideally in 30 minutes or less. 🙂

So what do you think?  Does this book exist?  Please tell me it does!

Giving away the harvest: Care package for friends--broccoli, cabbage, kale, beet greens, snow peas, and early potatoes

The New Normal: Harvest Time


Despite the calendar that says summer is here, the weather isn’t due to change until next week.  But that doesn’t seem to matter to the garden!  It’s amazing how one minute everything is almost ready, and then all of a sudden everything should have been picked yesterday!

This week, the snow and sugar snap peas seem to have exploded with pods, the strawberries have yielded almost a pound every couple of days, and the broccoli is blooming all over.  While I’m keeping an eye on those, the spinach still hasn’t bolted, but instead is ready for another big trim, two massive lettuces have bolted and will go to the chickens, and the beets are bulging.  There are salad greens to be collected all over the garden, but I’ve been too busy eating broccoli, peas, and the last of the garlic scapes and scallions to find the energy for salad!  Which I’d better get over, because there are heads of cabbage getting fuller everyday, which means we need to either eat some coleslaw–stat!–or start looking up sauerkraut recipes…

Although it will be a while before the true summer crops are producing, the tomato vines are looking almost threatening in their vigour.  Luckily, the bush and pole beans will only be producing leaves for another few weeks at least, and the cucumber, zucchini, and peppers are still barely out of the seedling stage.  Thank goodness!

All of this means a couple of things: it’s time for the new morning and evening harvest ritual to begin again, and I definitely need to get my act together and decide how I’m going to handle the excess.  Because without a channel for all this produce that’s so much more than I can eat, harvesting just feels like a chore.  How quickly I go from the spectacular joy of seeing the garden in full production to being overwhelmed by how much needs to be done all at once!

For a little while longer I may be able to pass a few items over to the neighbours; Skipper hasn’t been around for dinner this week (which more than halves the dent I make in the harvest 🙂 ), and we’ll have a houseguest next week for a few days.  So that should stave off chaos briefly.  But after that, I either start freezing or I beg the Skipper to make my farm gate stand his next project!

So if you can’t find me in the garden this week, look for me under the dining table in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, muttering to myself, “remember that this is what you did all that work for…this is what it’s all about…this is what you wait all winter for…you WANT to do this…”

Can somebody please get to work on adding a few more hours to the day?

Happiness is…

A warm June

Trading a surfeit of spinach and salad greens for fresh eggs from the neighbours

Trading more of said greens for fresh oysters from some marina neighbours

Being almost finished with the spring/summer planting (just in time to start the fall/winter planting!)

A handy husband with some extra surprise days off

Waking up without an alarm clock

The garden in full spring bloom: purple magnolias, wine-coloured rhodos, every shade of columbine

Bees on every blossom

Watching fruit blossoms turn into blueberries, cherries, currants, raspberries, strawberries…

Chickens playing hide-and-seek among the towering perennials

Two birthday cakes!

Two cakes are better than one! 🙂 (both for me--and good only for the soul ;))

Awkward Transitions

We’re home!  After a wonderful trip to Nova Scotia (pics and food stories forthcoming), Skipper and I are back in our Island home.  It was great to be away, and it was a little awkward coming back.  There is a 4 hour time difference, and it was a long day of 3 flights and then a drive to get here, and by the time we got home we were thoroughly discombobulated.  Flying east to west is always a little weird; it gets later and later for your body, but earlier and earlier in the day!  There was still a little daylight when we finally arrived back in our homestead, and we spent a little while in the garden just taking in all of the changes to the plants and the chickens.

The yard was barely recognizable!  There must have been some kind of weather for those 10 days, boy, because I picked almost 3 lbs of spinach from 8 row feet of what were tiny sprouts in need  of thinning when we left!  Yesterday I picked another pound of salad greens in the form of beet green thinnings and about-to-bolt arugula, and today I sent my neighbours home with six large heads of beautiful Drunken Woman lettuce.  Last night I started talking to the Skipper about building me some kind of farm gate stand!

Despite my joy at seeing the garden having exploded into life, I felt quite strange for a day.  It’s as if I’ve missed my child’s first steps–after paying such detailed and careful attention to every aspect of the garden before we left, there was something jarring about coming back to see it so much farther ahead then when I’d last seen it.

And of course, we were immediately overwhelmed by all the tasks that jumped out at us after just that cursory glance around.  Harvesting crops, weeding, seeding, transplanting, planning, building, mulching, trellising…all of it needed to be done immediately!

I started getting in touch with key people in my life the morning after we got home–part of my process to get grounded again.  But many of my friends and family are in the middle of major life transitions and moves, and they were just as overwhelmed as I was! 🙂

Today, a couple of days after arriving home, I’m feeling rooted again.  The weed whacker cleaned up the bulk of the excess growth, and after spending a couple of days with the chickens, they don’t seem to have changed so much after all (except in size!).  Gradually, we’re getting through the pile of laundry.

A good friend of mine talked to me once about how every place has its own particular energy.  As we spend time in a place, and as our cells are regenerated out of the material of the new space, we are changed and align with that energy.  This makes complete sense to me.  When I go to Mexico, all I want to do is sail away, wander, laze in the sunshine, and hang out.  When I am here, all I want to do is farm and grow things.  When we were in Nova Scotia, that feeling disappeared and new ones took over.  And now, I’m feeling the transition process in a visceral way, as I literally change again.

The transition isn’t always comfortable or seamless; there are some cranky moments as Skipper and I each go through our own process, and of course we don’t always sleep well along the way.  But now that it’s been a couple of days, I can say with confidence,

I’m so glad to be home!

And, I don’t think I want to go away again during the growing season.

Hap-py Blogiversary!

Yep, I made it to 100 posts!  And thanks to all of you who have been reading along and commenting, we also cracked the 300 comments mark!  It’s been quite a year.

One of the things I like best about reading people’s blogs is that they can chart amazing transformations in people’s lives in such short periods of time.  When I find bloggers who have similar interests and goals to mine, I am inspired to see what they accomplish and how their lives evolve.

I never thought I’d have a record like that for my own life, and it’s very rewarding to be able to look back and see some big shifts over this last year.  It’s even more rewarding to have those same bloggers that I follow commenting and creating supportive networks that help us all move forward on our journeys.

This mini blogging marathon has also taught me a few things these last couple of weeks.

Writing almost every day has been good for my other writing projects.  I never quite belived that writing a journal or morning pages was that useful for me when it came to my other writing; I often felt like the time I spent journalling got the writing bug out of my system for the day and allowed me to procrastinate better!  But I think blogging has been more effective because, for me, it’s not a journal per se.  I’m not just recording what I’ve done each day; I’m working through the ideas that preoccupy me and trying to put them into some kind of logical order for others to read.  In fact, (as you probably noticed for better or ill) I’m writing mini-essays.  I have an academic paper to write this week, and I’m feeling better prepared than I ever have to write it, because of all this practice.  As I haven’t written an academic paper in a few years now, I’m really feeling the value of that–I know what it feels like when those skills are rusty!

On the other hand, I don’t think at this point that I’ll keep up with posting so often.  Not because I’m tired of the self-imposed pressure; I clearly have a busy mind, and I haven’t run out of things to write about yet!  But because when I do craft one of those deeper posts, I think there’s some value both for me and for others to have it sit out there for a little while.  My readership is up a little from the consistent posting, but comments have been down.  I know I don’t have time to read and comment on blogs every day the way I used to, and I suspect I’m not alone.  Sitting down to catch up with a favorite blog and wading through a pile of posts each week is not only a little daunting, but it makes me feel like the conversation has passed and I keep my responses to myself.  I like the rhythm and space to reflect that comes with posting once or twice a week.

On another note, it feels like there’s a kind of synergy in the air these days.  My passions are coming together and becoming more and more concrete; I can’t wait to see where they lead next!  When I started this blog a year ago, I was contemplating a forced career change, and wanted this space to be writing practice and a potential food hub page for the Cowichan Valley.  I expected to be posting a little about my own backyard garden, sharing recipes, but also reporting on food events, restaurant reviews, and culture in the wider backyard of my community.

But in these last months, what I’ve realized more than anything is that I’m not content to be a detached “reporter” of others’ efforts to build food community in the valley.  I want to do it too!  I don’t want just to write about food production and admirable young farmers, I want to be a food producer myself–I want to get my own hands dirty! 🙂

So watch for some big changes over the coming year, both to my life and to the blog.  I have a vision taking shape, and I’ll be working on a new website to reflect that vision.  Thanks so much, once again, for reading and following along!