Monday, 21 December 2009

As Greenpa would say...

...pick and iceberg and start pushing. Turns out Derrick Jensen (author of Endgame) says much the same thing in this excellent article.

Also, Happy Solstice everyone! I know I am sure looking forward to more daylight instead of less. When we get to December 21 I know I can make it through the Winter. Today here in the Edmonton area it is snowing quite heavily, and we have a whopping ~7 1/2 hours of daylight.

With the bitter (but far from surprising) disappointment at Copenhagen, I'm not sure if I will have much more to say on this blog before the New Year rolls around next week. Despite that, I would still like to wish everyone a joyful holiday season and a time of rest as we gather ourselves for the challenges of the coming year. May our individual actions for peaceful change in 2010 overflow into a collective juggernaut of goodness the likes of which the world has never seen!

(I can dream, can't I?)

Monday, 14 December 2009

"World Class"

There has been a lot of talk around Edmonton over the past few years, and particularly the last several weeks, about what it takes to be a "world class" city. Ways to distinguish ourselves in this regard have been proposed in the form of elaborate signposts upon entry to the city itself, to the building of a downtown sports arena, to the current apparent passport to world recognition: Expo 2017.

Not surprisingly, I disagree with these things as being any kind of indicator as to the "world-classness" of a city. I would (and do) argue that these kinds of undertakings and endeavors actually do the opposite of what a truly world-class city would do. They glorify the flashy over the solid and dependable. They venerate highly paid entertainers rather than help out citizens in need. They confuse a marketing strategy with making the city a better place to live, for everyone.

The elected representatives of a truly world-class city would focus instead on the things that help their citizens the most, without worrying about image or notoriety. When you do the right thing, you don't have to worry about image or notoriety. So how about trying some of these 'world-class' things instead:
  • expand public transit
  • re-install public water fountains and encourage people to drink our excellent tap water rather than bottled water
  • develop walkable and bike-able communities, saving the city's surrounding farmlands from being paved over
  • build affordable public housing for the 3000+ homeless people in Edmonton
  • protect the fertile farmland in/to the northeast of the city, and protect it for the generations to come
  • maintain and retrofit existing infrastructure before building new, fancy, Dubai-esque monuments
  • encourage businesses and citizens to investigate things like solar power, green roofs, geo-thermal for their businesses and residences
  • Start converting city-owned buildings with some of the above-mentioned technologies
A city or town that did these sorts of things would soon be recognized far and wide as a pro-active, cutting edge and visionary place which serves its citizens in the long run, rather than staging a few flash-in-the pan publicity stunts. And as a bonus, there are no multi-million dollar application fees.

I doubt that Edmonton City Council reads Lao Tzu, but perhaps they should. Everyone benefits when society, and individuals, choose substance over style:
Return to the state of plain wood
Plain wood splits, then becomes tools
The sages utilize them
And then become leaders
From Derek Lin's translation of the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 28.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

My Climate Change "Action Plan"

Since it is becoming increasingly obvious that there will be no binding agreement in Copenhagen next month about how to achieve necessary greenhouse gas emission reductions, I thought I would propose my own binding climate change mitigation strategy. Why not, eh? Members of the so-called "developed" world seem to need a little direction in the matter, a little gentle urging perhaps. So here goes. By the way, I haven't decided if I'm joking or not.

Benign Dictator Theresa's "My Way or the Fry-way" Climate Change Action Plan
  • All international and national sporting competitions will cease immediately. That includes the Olympics. All that travel is totally unnecessary and wasteful. Everyone bike/walk to your local sporting venue instead and support your local kids competing out of a sense of fun, rather than a sense of 'when-will-I-get-that-Nike-endorsement' greed.
  • Politicians, business people, you are heretofore directed to use conference calls and webcams. All your jet-fueled travel is canceled. Your 'leadership' isn't helping anyway.
  • Tropical and other 'must-have' vacations, same goes: canceled. There's lots do see and do within walking/biking distance of where you live. And if you need that much distraction in your life you have bigger problems anyway.
  • The Las Vegas strip is closed until further notice. Same goes for all other similar locations worldwide. Way too much electricity used for no good reason. Not to mention setting a really, really bad example on so many levels. (November 27 addendum: Thanks Dubai, for getting right on that.)
  • Sorry race fans, NASCAR, Formula 1, etc., canceled. Those fossil fuels are needed for other things. Get a pedal bike or a canoe and race that.
  • Everyone will be vegetarian and like it, so there.
  • Every household will be required to have and tend a food-bearing vegetable garden. If you have no yard, a community garden plot within walking/biking distance will be found and/or reclaimed for you (i.e., uncovering the soil under now-unneeded parking lots, etc). Seeds and gardening implements will be provided. Gardening/Cooking/Preserving classes will be taught to young and old, in your local community by cool people like Sharon Astyk and her many minions.
  • Work weeks will heretofore be limited to 4 days out of 7.
  • Two days a week will be mandatory car-free days. You need to work in your garden, or volunteer, or take a Preserving class, or take a nap, or have some local fun on those days anyway.
  • Cheap plastic crap will no longer be manufactured or sold. If we're expending resources to manufacture things, those things will be useful and built to last.
  • Get ready for it: Oil sands operations will be reduced by 50% immediately. We will use natural gas as a primary fuel, rather than using it as part of the tarsands extraction process. No new coal-fired electricity plants and 50% of existing ones will be shut down. All nuclear plants will be shut down, effective immediately. The precautionary principle will be the guiding principle from now on, period. All subsidies to fossil fuel industries will be entirely re-directed to renewables, effective immediately. All buildings will be retrofitted with these cool solar panel shingles.
  • Carbon/Greenhouse gas emissions will be capped on a per capita basis, to ensure that the 350 ppm goal is reached in the next 10 years, or maybe 5 years, I haven't decided. The cap will be the same for everybody, regardless of geographical location, income, celebrity status, or political office. If this means you have to reduce your consumption down to 10% of what it is now, get used to it. Fair is fair. Compliance will be enforced by whatever nefarious means I deem suitable.
  • Oh, and no one has any more kids until all the kids around the world in orphanages or on the streets have been adopted. "Something" has been "put in the water" already.
Really, compared to that, would it be so difficult to get something together at Copenhagen? I am being generally facetious and sarcastic with (some) of these points, but come on! It doesn't take that much planning and it is not a hardship to cut down electricity consumption by half, and in our household we've managed to cut back to 35% of the North American average. I realize that is just a drop in the bucket, but instead of working to increase the number of drops in the bucket, my Canadian government is just throwing out excuses and downplaying expectations before the Copenhagen meeting. It's sickening. What passes for leadership these days is absolutely sickening.

Ok, time to make some ginger tea to reduce my nausea.

Does anyone have any 'dream clauses' you would like to add to this 'action plan'?

November 20th: Friendly Amendments. The following amendments have been suggested by commenters, and are hereby incorporated into the Action Plan . I am a benign dictator after all....
  • Hadv's amendment: The status quo is not good enough anymore. The time for change has come. Get used to it.
  • Sensible Vermonter's amendment: Renewable power retrofits will be fully subsidized up front. Power generated by these renewable sources will be sold back to the "grid" up until the subsidy is paid back, after which it will become a source of income for the homeowner.
  • Amber's amendment: Household composting is mandatory. A suitably sized composter will be provided to each household free of charge. Compost can be used by the homeowner or sold back to local compost exchange stations. Barter among neighbors is encouraged. Courses on regular and humanure composting will be offered alongside the Gardening/Cooking/Preserving courses noted above.
  • Theresa's afterthought amendment: In the spirit of re-localizing sporting and business events, all national and international travel for concerts, book tours, etc., will also be cancelled. Wherever you are, there are lots of talented local artists, authors, musicians and crafters who deserve your patronage.
Additional amendments and clauses remain welcome!


Fried landscape picture courtesy EcoWanderer

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Garden 2009: Summary of What Worked and What Didn't

One of the purposes of this blog is for me to keep track of the things I'm doing and learning about sustainability and food security and the like, through my own gardening efforts. I didn't post much about my garden (or anything else for that matter) this summer, but I thought I should at least make note of how some of the things I tried turned out.

I'll start with what went well:

1) Potatoes: Potatoes are plain-packaged miracles in my opinion. I was astounded again this year at how many potatoes will grow from just a quarter-potato planted in the Spring. I planted a section of Yukon Gold potatoes this year - the section was about 5 feet square. I probably planted the potatoes too close together, and I didn't hill them up as much I had intended, yet I got over 40 lbs of potatoes out of that little patch. Some of them were hands down gorgeous! Smooth, creamy, perfectly formed spuds. I have since made a whole lotta potato-leek soup and mashed spuds, which are now in my freezer for Winter. Not to mention the bounty of new potatoes and butter we had over the Summer itself.

2) Carrots: These grew and grew whether I thinned them or not, and tolerated quite the variation in temperature and moisture - I was so enthralled with them I wrote a little post all about it a couple weeks ago...

3) Perennial Herbs: I was so happy that my lavender plant made it through last Winter, despite the many nights of bitter cold we had (and by bitter cold I mean -45C at times, and often many nights in a row of -30C). Not only did it survive, but it thrived and produced lovely flowers that were loved by a lot of bees and bugs. By virtue of a late September trip to a lavender farm just outside of Victoria, BC, I found out that my particular variety of lavender was edible! So I harvested my lavender flowers (probably past their peak, but oh well) and made some delicious lavender scones, like you see in the picture above. I also made some lavender and sage tea with honey, which is also quite tasty. Which brings me to the sage - another plant that just grew like crazy this Summer. I have harvested a huge jar-full, enough to last me over the Winter, for certain. My thyme and rosemary also did well, and I fully expect to see them survive over this Winter, providing there is enough snow to insulate everything nicely, like there was last year.

4) Perennial Salad Greens: I grew three varieties of greens from seed: Salad Burnet, Burnet Saxifraga and French Sorrel. All of these sprouted well and grew quite profusely. Both Gord and I and our guinea pigs enjoyed these greens over the summer and into the late Fall (i.e., now). I am keeping my fingers crossed that they live through the winter - the odds are fairly good since they are quite well established now.

There were several things that didn't go well, some of which I've complained about already, and some which I haven't mentioned yet:

1) Cucumbers: I have absolutely no luck with these. Last year they were killed by frost and this year the seedlings were fried by a hot spell after a cool, dry spell. I had been trying to conserve water becasue of the dryness early in the Spring, and apparently I was a bit too stingy with the H2O.

2) Beans: These things were fried more than once, and were very slow to get going in the adverse conditions of cool dryness followed by hot dryness. Later in the summer they had a burst of growth that happened so fast the beans were past the fresh eating stage before I even noticed there were beans at all. They were even past the pickling stage, they were that big. Fortunately they were a dual purpose bean, in that the seeds themselves could be dried and used for soups. So I have a whole cupboard full of bean pods drying.

3) Tomatoes: Dead. Killed in a late frost (in June). I didn't have the motivation to try again.

4) Pumpkins: Dead. Seedlings eaten by some sort of garden pest, perhaps of the deer or pocket gopher variety.

5) Chard and Kale: started out good, but the above noted pocket gopher decided to invade that corner of the garden after our 'mole repellent' thingies chased them out of the yard. All that underground burrowing killed a good half of the chard and kale after that.

6) Aspen tree "cloning:" Our property is full of trembling aspen trees, but there is one large gap in the treeline from what I assume was some over-zealous grading when the house was built. I want to fill in that gap with the same kind of trees, and when I saw this rooter pot device at Lee Valley tools, I thought it was the answer. I had visions of free trees in my head, and I enthusiastically made my way out into our woodlot to choose some prime cloning fodder. I followed the directions closely and soon had ten aspen saplings fitted out with attached rootpots. I don't know if it was a problem with the rooting hormone washing off of the exposed "wound" inside the rootpots, or my not keeping the soil evenly moist. (Watering these things was a tad more complex than the little instruction book led me to believe.) So instead of planting ten new trees, I killed ten trees instead. Not good.

Despite the disappointments I did learn a lot, and there were some things that did go well even in the tough conditions. I guess that's the most important lesson of all: when the going gets tough, I just need to channel my inner potato. And then maybe have some lavender scones with tea. :)

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Dropping the Story

I don't like making phone calls. I especially don't like making phone calls to people I don't know. My family can verify this - I get nervous about calling for take-out pizza. And back when I was in Grade 7, and I needed a mouth piece for my french horn, my little brother made the call to the music shop - I was too afraid. In tears even.

So, when I decided a few weeks ago to put my name down on a list of people willing to make calls to other union members about their opinions about our Local's candidate for president of the union, I don't know what I was thinking. Well, I do know actually: the candidate has really gone to the mat for us over the past two years, and I wanted to help out because I think he would be a good union president. So I put my name on the list.

I had put the whole thing out of my mind until a few weeks later when I got the delegate list in the mail. Once the reality of having to make those calls dawned on me, I began berating myself for being so dumb, and signing up for something I so dislike doing. I worked myself up all into a lather about how this was going to ruin my evenings, and I was busy and tired enough, dang it all, etc., etc.

But then, somehow, another thought managed to sneak into my brain. I remembered something I had read about suffering, and how we create it: by wanting things to be other than how they are, and by projecting stories into the future about how things are going to go, when they haven't even happened yet. I decided I could try Pema Chodron's advice to just "drop the story" I was telling myself about how this thing was going to go.

And so, after reviewing our candidate's platform and familiarizing myself with the purpose of the calls, I dialed the first name on my list. And I spoke to the nicest lady, who had heard about our candidate and who eagerly told me that she was going to vote for him, without me even asking! Then I dialed the next name, and the same thing happened! This wasn't how I had imagined it at all! And it wasn't taking very much time either. People were happy to express their view, but they had other things to do too, so our conversations were just a few minutes long. Over the span of four sessions of calling, the whole thing probably took less than an hour. And instead of being resentful, I ended up being grateful that I was able to connect with other people, people who are eager for change, like me.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Squash Quandary

Last week was our last delivery of veggies from our organic CSA farm. One of the things we got was the adorable pumpkin on the right.

The week previously, we received the two squash further to the left. At first I thought the orange one was also a pumpkin, but it is kinda different from the thing we got last week, which I know for sure is a pumpkin. And the zeppelin squash has thrown me off completely! Does anyone know what these two could be? Are they edible or just decorative?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Carrot Bounty

I just had to post about my bonanza of carrots. I left them in the ground while we were away on holidays in late September/early October. And then we got a really hard frost, and some snow even. And then more frost.

But the carrots survived, and look just beautiful. We will be eating them at our family Thanksgiving dinner this weekend.

I got four ice cream pails full of carrots from my small patch - about 15 lbs maybe? Enough to keep some share some.


Monday, 5 October 2009

Transition of sorts?

Anyone who has stopped by here lately will know that I've been posting at a much lower rate than usual over the past many months. Partly, this is due to it having been a very busy year, with personal and family health matters impacting the amount of time and energy I've had to write down the things I've been thinking about. It has also been due to having had a very strange gardening season, with more disappointment than promise. But mostly, the dearth of posts has been because I am just sick and tired, and I don't want to be posting rants and complaints all the time. And the moments of inspiration I have are so fleeting that they're gone before I even have the motivation to post about them.

More and more I find that news of what the municipal, provincial and federal governments are doing just disgusts me. And I have to not think about it too much, or I just get mad, or nauseous or both, and can't do what needs doing around here. Back when I first started this blog ~ 2 1/2 years ago, I was able to gain inspiration by what others were doing, and my own first steps on the path to sustainability were so interesting and fun that I was certain it wouldn't be long before the whole world was on board.

But as time has gone by, I've become more disheartened and cynical. Things have gotten worse, not better, in terms of corporate control of almost everything, and complete denial of the climate-related challenges that face humanity. The only time being "green" seems to matter, is if money can be made off of it somehow. Greed taints everything, and I find myself clamming up more and more, because speaking out seems to just piss people off and harden their opinions anyway. More and more I feel like a fish out of water. Maybe I will feel differently again in a few months, I don't know.

So, I am not sure what form this blog will take from here on in. I've got to do some serious thinking about what constitutes right livelihood, and how best to work towards it in a way that I can do long-term. It could mean changing quite a few things. I'm not shutting down this blog, but posts will likely remain few and far between. Thanks to everyone who still pops in now and then - I do very much value your comments and support.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Frost!

Darn! One day before I was to harvest everything, we had frost. The chard leaves were frozen solid this morning before I went to work, as were the bean leaves, the carrot tops, etc. I got home after dark tonight, so I didn't see the extent of the damage, but I have a feeling it will be a sad sight when I go out there tomorrow. Well, at least the root veggies are ok, and I think the kholrabi and kale should make it. This year's first frost was two weeks later than last year, and it still caught me off guard. Rats!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Lessons from a Neglected Garden

Over the past month or so I have really neglected the garden. We've had a little rain, so I haven't had to water it every day, but I have had to turn on the sprinkler once a week anyway, to keep things from drying out. The weeds are enormous - truly huge! I have never let the weeding get away from me like I did this year, and when I once entertained the idea of doing something about it, the weeds were already so large it would have disturbed the root systems of everything else to yank them out. So there are 3 and 4 foot weeds in there, seriously.

One of the few bonuses of the weeds is that they have certainly shaded the soil well, and kept the rain that does fall from evaporating immediately. It has kept the soil surface cooler as well, which some of the plants have liked a lot (in particular the beans and carrots).

Because of the extent of my neglect, I may be able to collect more seed than I otherwise would have. Many of my radishes went to seed, and the flowers they put out were really quite lovely. And now there are a zillion seed pods ready for picking. My two varieties of bean plants produced much later than last year, so much so that I didn't think they were going to produce at all. But they did, seemingly all of a sudden, and now I have huge bean pods that are probably way past eating as green beans. Fortunately, one of the varieties I grew was dual purpose anyway (the Golden Rocky bean), and so I will just harvest them as dry beans for over the winter (and seed for next year). The other variety (Tanya's Pink Pod) was interesting to look at and very pretty, but I don't think I will grow many of them next year. I will still save some seed though.

I managed to thin the carrots out once in early Summer, but otherwise they are really growing way too close together. Despite this, they have grown quite big and fairly straight, and since I haven't been grazing on them all summer long, there are actually a lot of them left to harvest and store for the Winter.

My neglect also resulted in my harvesting very few new potatoes. The plants have all yellowed and wilted now, and have been that way for a couple weeks, which means the skins will have hardened and they will be better suited to long term storage. That works well for me, since we had new potatoes almost all summer from our CSA farm share (and probably will have many more weeks of these yet).

So, while I wish I was more on the ball this year with my garden, I have been pleasantly surprised at what will grow anyway, despite the weeds and the overall carelessness and inattention. I'm hoping next year will be a bit of a middle path between my gung-ho hypervigilance last year, and my distracted neglect this year.

Now, if the first frost will just hold off for a few more days, I will dig, pick, dry and otherwise harvest my little heart out this weekend!

Radish pod picture courtesy this foraging blog.

Friday, 4 September 2009

"Some people think I'm crazy, but I'm not."

Warning: Rant Ahead.

I am so frustrated I don't even know where to start. Frustrated with myself and the world in general, suprise suprise. Well, how about starting here: two years ago I wrote a post about how I was afraid to look weird, carrying my Green Party reusable grocery bag into the grocery store. I've come a long way from that, and now my Green Party bag is a regular part of my trips to the grocery store, farmer's market and anywhere else a reusable bag is handy.

Fast forward to this year: I am trying to be responsible with my savings and RRSPs and such, while taking into account all the financial mayhem and general unethical crap that goes on in our 'free market' system. Sometimes I think the whole thing is one huge Ponzi scheme. For years since I graduated from grad school and got a 'real job' I've been contributing diligently to RRSPs on a monthly basis, taking advantage of 'dollar cost averaging' and all that stuff, putting it into what seemed like fairly safe 'investments.' But more and more I think the whole thing is a gamble, not an investment - a glorified poker table or slot machine, distinctly favoring 'the house.' So I've been doing things differently over the past year or so, much to the chagrin of the people at my banking/investing institutions. So far I've just shrugged it off, but this week I've been making some inquiries about changing things again - getting all radical with a GIC instead of equities - and the response I got made me really doubt myself. Then it made me mad. Then it made me doubt myself some more. And I thought, here I go again, afraid to look weird. Well forget that noise.

This is my money, that I've worked for and set aside, for years. This is not the bank's money, it's not the investment company's money. It is my money (Gord's and mine, but you get my point). It is up to ME what I do with it. And I resent being told that I am being 'unreasonable' to want to put it in a conservative fund like a GIC, and I really resent the implication that I am acting rashly and irresponsibly to give up my 'opportunity' to get big returns on my 'investments.' What's wrong with just wanting a decent return on my money, without all the anxiety of wondering if today is the day that the sucker rally ends?

And I resent the patronizing implication that all of this is just beyond me and I should leave it to the 'experts' to manage on my behalf. No, I don't have any training in finance, banking or investments, but I do read both mainstream and non-mainstream publications about it so I'm not just operating on auto-pilot when I go into the bank or the investment office. Sometimes I wonder if these things are made super-complicated on purpose, for obfuscation purposes. Really, how complicated should it be? And why should I just hand over my money without question anyway? Especially to someone who has a vested interest in me handing over my money without question.

So on the way home from work I had my car stereo cranked up loud, playing this Oysterband song, which made me cry, just like it did at this year's Folk Festival. Bring on the flood. Bring it. I am so tired of the way things are.

factories in the phillipines,
cutting holes in brand new jeans,
for cutting edge consumers,
rich kids in the west you see,
they have no sense of irony,
and i'm losing my sense of humour,
all across the moonlit sky,
vapour trails multiply, trade winds are getting stronger,
while he says she has to chill,
they bring us apples from brazil,
new diseases from the congo,

(chorus)
i havent prayed since god knows when,
my teeth are un-american,
socialism's orphan child,
unimpressed, unreconciled
some people think im crazy.... but i'm not
here comes the flood

a million tv dishes crown the skyline of shanty town,
everywhere our apsiration,
the word from CNN arives,
we watched the headlines of our lives,
each movement in isolation,
the cool blue line of isolation...

(chorus)

democracy for planet earth,
they roll it out like astroturf,
easy men they're all in a hurry,
so you can wear a stupid grin,
watch 'em roll the bankers in,
only the bad guys amongst us need to worry

(chorus)

here comes the flood x3

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Solar Oven to the Rescue!?

This morning, for the second time in about a week, the power went off. The last time it happened it was off for about 90 minutes. That day, I had been up already and had had my morning cup of tea, but Gord hadn't: he wanted tea and couldn't have it. So this morning when the power went off again, it was one of the first things he said: "We could boil water for tea in your Sun Oven." I agreed this was a great idea, and so I went downstairs to put water in the black enamel pot and set up the solar oven outside.

It was a clear and sunny day, so everything was looking good. The oven was already up to 150F before I had even put the pot inside of it. Once I had the reflectors up and the glass door latched shut, I puttered around for a bit in the yard, picking and eating the odd saskatoon berry while gathering some greens from the garden for the guinea pigs. When I went back inside the house, the power was already back on! Considering the power company had told me that a substation had gone down, this was a bit surprising, and almost disappointing! I left the water in the solar oven anyway, just in case the power went off again. And because I wanted to see if it would really boil water.

It ended up taking quite a while (i.e., 60+ minutes) for the water to boil, probably because I put way more water in the pot than I needed for two cups of tea, and because the early morning sun is not very intense, particularly this time of year. The water wasn't boiling anymore by the time I got it in the house, but I made some red raspberry leaf tea with the still-very-hot water, and it was just fine. (Gord made his with the electric kettle while I was still outside - cheater!)

A few hours later, it dawned on me that today would be a good day to make a pot of potato-leek soup in the Sun Oven, and if I hurried I could still get take advantage of some of the good solar cooking hours (10 am - 2 pm). I used the rest of the still-warm tea water to make (instant) soup stock, and within a half hour had a pot of soup ingredients ready to simmer in the solar oven. The oven got up to 300F this time (I have only used it once before, since it arrived in the mail about two weeks ago), which seemed like perfect soup-simmering temperature. Unfortunately I had missed most of the good cooking hours, but even so, by 6 pm we were eating some darn good soup!

Some things about the solar oven I really like are: that I don't have to stir the soup, and I don't have to worry about it burning. Later, washing up was really easy, because nothing was stuck to the sides or bottom of the pan. And the flavors of the soup seemed a lot richer, having been slow cooked - more like home made soup usually tastes the next day.

I do hope the oven reaches some hotter temperatures at some point - I will have to make sure I'm ready by 10 am next time, so I can give it a fair test. Even if it doesn't reach the 400F that the info on the box claims it will, I do think the Sun Oven will be a useful cooking option, regardless of whether there is a power outage or not. So far I have roasted veggies in it, boiled water and made soup: my next goal is to find a biscuit or cookie recipe that is suitable for moderate baking temperatures.

There's nothing like cooking with free energy! Thank you sun!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Thanks to The New Resilient

Thanks to Ryan and the folks over at The New Resilient, who have kindly published a couple of my gardening-related articles this Summer. It is an honor to have some of my ponderings included with the very informative and practical (not to mention tasty!) materials there. If you haven't already checked out The New Resilient blog, please do! It is chock full of good information on what people can do and are doing to work towards "post-collapse prosperity." And it's from a Western Canadian perspective, which is pretty cool too!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

What's For Dinner? Edible Weeds

Recently while doing a little investigating into the types of weeds I was pulling from my veggie garden, I found that at least one of them was edible. Lambsquarters, pictured to the right, are apparently very much like mild chard or spinach in flavor, and can be cooked much as one would cook those greens. I plucked off a leaf or two and popped them in my mouth, and lo and behold, it did taste very much like spinach. The next step was to pick a whole bunch of these leaves and cook them up in my favorite way: sauteed with nutmeg.

I ended up picking a relatively small amount of the leaves, because I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. It didn't take long, since I have an abundance of these weeds in and around my garden.

After washing the leaves I put them in my cast iron skillet
on lowish heat, along with some margarine and nutmeg. I covered the pan with a lid, the way I normally do when I cook
chard, kale or spinach this way. After just a few minutes, the
leaves were tender and looked ready to eat. They cooked much
more quickly than kale, chard or spinach, maybe because the leaves do not have a very thick stem.

And then, time for the taste test. It was extremely good! Milder than kale, but with more flavor than spinach. Probably closest to chard or collard greens, or even beet tops. Once they were cooked up it was easy to forget that they were weeds in my garden just a few minutes ago. What a difference it makes when I look at these plants now and see a food source, rather than a pesky weed!

It turns out I have more than one edible weed in my yard. Fireweed leaves can be eaten raw when they are small and tender, and the buds can be used in stir fries. You can make jelly out of the flower petals, much like rose petal jelly I expect. Even the roots are edible. It seems like almost every part of this flowering weed can be consumed at some point in its growing cycle. Once the plants get big and the stem covering has toughened up, it's no longer edible but can be used instead to make twine. I always loved the look of the purple fireweed plants as Summer turns to Fall, but I never knew they were so useful! It's too late in the season for me to try eating the leaves and stems, but I might just try stripping off the fibrous part when Fall arrives, and see what I can fashion out of that....

Of course we have plenty of dandelion leaves in our yard, and those are edible too. I have tossed a few dandelion leaves into my salads on occasion, but mostly I pick dandelion greens for our two guinea pigs, Scooter and Sophie, who really love the more bitter taste.

Even more exciting was the discovery this Spring that plantain leaves are edible, and that they purportedly have some anti-cancer properties. I have nibbled on this leaf as well, but so far have been feeding it to Scooter for the most part, because he has a cancerous lump on his front leg. I am not sure if it is helping, but he loves to eat the plantain leaves, in any event. And it can't hurt. Chewing the leaf into a pulp makes a good plaster to apply to mosquito or bee/wasp stings too. In addition, the long seed stalks can be used like millet, to feed the birds.

Very tasty is the tiny chickweed plant. It is particularly good in salad, and has fresh and crunchy taste and texture. The small white flowers make it very pretty too, and this year I haven't even bothered separating it out from the lettuce I'm growing -- I just pick it all together and make salad. Of course the guinea pigs love the chickweed too, even though its taste is more mild than either the dandelion or the plantain.

Last year I discovered yarrow and bergemot growing in our yard. While I haven't eaten these plants outright, I have made delicious tea from them. A few leaves of each, along with some honey, and I have a wonderful, free, herbal tea! I didn't pick enough to last me over the Winter last year, but I plan to remedy that this year, for sure.

Once I started looking, it was quite astounding to see what there was to eat in my yard! What useful weeds do you have growing where you live?

Monday, 27 July 2009

The Upside of Weeds and Weeding

Over the last couple of weeks I've been doing something sort of different for me: listening to podcasts while doing yardwork. Normally I like to just hear the sounds of the outside when I am outside, but since I discovered this whole podcast thing, I've enjoyed doing some listening and weeding at the same time.

Last week I was listening to yet another one of Noah Levine's podcasts and while I can't remember the exact details, the gist of the podcast was that the things we think are obstacles really aren't - they are more like things that we need to work through for a reason, and that it's not necessary or even desirable to remove all obstacles all at once. As he was talking and I was weeding it occurred to me that maybe weeds aren't as, well, 'weedy' as we think either.

For one thing, weeds can act as shade for newly sprouting seeds - I know my little bean plants appreciated the shade from some lambsquarters weeds when we had hot spell in May. And a bit later in the season, when it comes time to yank the weeds out, they can be laid on the ground as mulch, helping the soil to retain its moisture. Maybe it sounds corny, but in the same way some of our bad habits and unskillful actions, immature as they are, can serve to protect us while we mature and gain some life experience. Eventually it comes time to get these things out of our lives, but it's still not a bad idea to lay them aside as some 'mental mulch' - reminders of where we've been and what we've learned.

If our gardens didn't have weeds, we probably wouldn't spend as much time in them either. Having to go in there and pull out the weeds from among the deliberately planted plants means that we become much more familiar with what's in the garden and how the plants are doing. We have the opportunity to notice what's growing well and what's doing poorly, where the soil retains moisture and where it tends to be dry, what's a bit buggy and what's vibrant and healthy. In the same way, it's good to spend some time observing the landscape of our thinking, taking note of what type of stuff is flourishing or languishing (or rotting! ;)) in our head. And if some of that stuff isn't useful, if it causes deep dissatisfaction for ourselves or others, it may be time to consider turning it into mulch rather than letting it keep on taking root in space that would be better used to nurture something else. Meditation is one way to do this kind of 'mental weeding.'

Sometimes weeds closely mimic the plants we are actually trying to grow. For example, last year I pulled out many a carrot sprout because they looked a lot like a certain ferny-looking weed (namely, scentless chamomile). And, I left in some weeds that I should have pulled for the same reason. Based on that direct experience, this year I was able to discern what is and is not a carrot, so this year's carrot patch is much more productive. Similarly, sometimes a person needs to get up-close-and-personal with the problems and obstacles in their lives, in order to sort out what's what. Sometimes we keep certain things/ideas/habits in our lives because they seem like the real thing. It's only later, after we see the genuine article and the imposter side by side in full bloom, that we can clearly discern the difference. Those can be difficult lessons, but they sure do stick with you.

Weeding is also a thing that is never really "done." There are always more weeds sprouting here and there, sometimes the same type of weed and sometimes a new variety. Experience with the familiar weeds helps us figure out what to do with the new ones. And over time we get better at preventing the garden from getting overrun with them. The same goes for our head and heart: with some regular and compassionate maintenance, we can prevent things from getting too tangled and overgrown in there, with some space to breathe.

All of this takes time, awareness, attention, intention and effort. Definitely good investments though, both in the garden and in ourselves!

So how's your 'weeding' going?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Local Attractions

Yesterday Gord and I took in the "Country Soul Stroll," which is an annual event here in Sturgeon County. It showcases local rural attractions, like llama farms, horse riding schools, plant and tree nurseries, tea houses, artists, craftspeople, and more. There is a lot to see around here, more than we would have thought when we first moved here six years ago. Yesterday we took in two of the attractions, and one more today. We had planned to do more, but got off to a bit of a late start, which isn't unusual for us on a Saturday!

Yesterday we headed to Morinville's Vintage Petals Tea House, where we had some delicious tea (hot for me, iced for Gord), and tasty sandwiches. The proprietress gave us a little personalized talk on the different types of tea (white, green, oolong and black) which all come from the same plant (camellia sinensis). I sampled a delicious vanilla cream black tea, and Gord tasted the iced version of the mango blueberry herb tea. While we ate, another staff member gave us a short history of the ~1922 brick house and its various residents, some of whom still live in the area. I took a quick peek in the gift shop area upstairs, which was full of some vintage kitchenware, home made items and a few new items too. I resisted temptation there, but I did buy some of the delicious fair trade vanilla black tea.

Then it was on to our next destination, First Choice Tree Nursery. There we were treated to the sight of flowers grown into the shape of puffy skirts around wire manakins - picture Scarlett O'Hara's dresses, but made of flowers - just gorgeous! There was also a cabin-like gift shop, with window boxes full of rainbow chard, and Christmas-themed decorations inside. They keep their Christmas shop open year-round, apparently. It was also a full fledged tree nursery, and Gord and I found two trees we may plant in the Fall: a Burr Oak (the only oak hardy enough for Zone 3) and a "Rugged Charm" Maple. The oak tree will (eventually) produce acorns; it could be wishful thinking that the maple would yield syrup. We'll wait until the Fall to plant anything, and hope that we've had some more rain by then.

And today we returned to one of our favorite spots, Prairie Gardens and Greenhouses. It was a bit too chilly to partake in any ice cream or strawberry shortcake, but we enjoyed puttering around the perrenial greenhouses, considering what we can plant next year that will be both pretty and useful.

It was a really nice weekend, with these two leisurely outings, and some fairly long periods of rain overnight.

What are some of your favorite local attractions?

Pictures courtesy Country Soul Stroll Website, linked above.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Radish Leaf Pesto Rotini

So I tried out the radish leaf pesto recipe for supper yesterday, and it wasn't half bad. I forgot to put the garlic in, unfortunately, but even without that it was quite tasty. I had some on a cracker as a dip/spread, and that was even tastier than my rotini dish. In hindsight, I don't think I put enough pesto on the pasta. I will be trying this recipe again though, since it is very very easy and quick, and there is very little mess that needs cleaning up later.

First, I gathered my ingredients: washed and de-stemmed radish leaves from my garden, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese (just the pre-grated stuff) and some pecan pieces.

Then, I chopped the radish leaves just a little bit, so they would more easily fit into my small food processor/chopper. (This can apparently be done with a mortar and pestle as well, but I don't have one of those yet...) Next, I buzzed the chopper for about 30 seconds or so, adding a few more leaves when there was room, along with a bit more cheese, oil and nuts.

The result was this 250 ml jar of pesto, which I immediately tested on some crispy crackers - delicious! This amount of pesto came from the leaves of about 8 radish plants, so even with my reduced number of radishes this year, there are still a lot more leaves where that came from. I realized when I made the pasta dish for supper that I had left out the garlic, but oh well - I will do that next time. I may also try using almonds instead of pecans, since both Gord and I like almonds better. The nice thing about pesto is that you can use pretty much any type of leaf, oil, nut and hard cheese you like, so there are lots of variations to try.

Every summer there are more and more things I can just pick from my yard to eat, and that is a really good feeling.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Rain and Radishes

It seems fitting somehow that on the day it finally rains, I was able to harvest the first fully grown thing from my garden: radishes. I have been sneaking out some kale and chard leaves, but these are still by all means in the miniature stage. I'm happy to report that the radishes were not bug-eaten at all, and were nicely spicy and crisp. I planted just one small row of radishes this year, since last year I had a huge overabundance of them, and they had become buggy and woody by the time I got them all out of the ground. Last year I just chucked all the radish leaves into the compost too, but this year I am going to try making radish leaf pesto instead!

The rain has left the garden moist and fragrant. Rainwater is so much better for the plants than tap-water, judging by the growth spurt that occurs after the rain falls. There's just nothing more essential than water, yet it can be so easy to take it for granted -- at least until it stops raining.

One of my favorite verses from the Tao Te Ching is about water. I've posted it before, but after last night's welcome rain, it seems to be a good time to post it again. We could all stand to be a little more like water, I think:

Chapter 8

The highest goodness resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao

Dwelling with the right location
Feeling with great depth
Giving with great kindness
Speaking with great integrity
Governing with great administration
Handling with great capability
Moving with great timing

Because it does not contend
It is therefore beyond reproach

Translation by Derek Lin

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A few garden pictures

So tomorrow is July 1st, Canada Day. Comparing pictures of my garden this year from about the same time last year, you can see just how far behind the growing season is. I have managed to harvest a few small greens for our guinea pigs though - they love the tender lettuce, kale and chickweed.

We have been having some mole problems too. So we ordered some mole-repellers that use a chattering sound and vibrations to convince the mole to move away, because there's another mole in town. The man at the hardware store told us we could generate the same effect using pinwheels, so we are trying some of those as well. Nicely patriotic for Canada Day, even! We're not sure if these are working yet, but there don't seem to be any new mole hills/holes, so far.


My perennial herb garden is doing fairly well. All three of my salad greens are growing nicely, albeit slowly. This plantain plant to the right of the Salad Burnet is a volunteer - but once I found out about its extensive medicinal properties, I have just let it grow. The guinea pigs like to eat these two plants as well - plain lettuce from the grocery store just doesn't cut it anymore!
In my rock path to the garden I have transplanted some thyme, and put up this little barrier to keep people from walking on it while it gets established. Eventually I would like thyme and other ground cover all amonst the rocks - it's just a matter of 'thyme' I guess! Hee!
Here is an overall picture of the garden. You can see that the potatoes on the left are doing really well, and so are the peas on the right. The beans, carrots, kale, chard and radishes are just tiny still, and I have pretty much given up on the cucumbers and the pumpkin. I may dig up the cucumber plot (the last plot on the right) and plant kohl rabi instead. Apparently it is a good candidate for kim chi, so I would like to try it, if it's not too late.
So that's a quick update on the state of the 2009 Garden. I hope everyone else's gardens are coming along as well, and that you are getting more rain than we are. Already two nearby municipal counties have declared droughts, and ours could be next. But I hope not.

A dearth of posts....

Ach, the end of June already and only one garden post....

Things are growing and I have been weeding and watering and taking pictures with the intent of posting about it. The trouble is, I've been so busy doing things I haven't had time to post about them. With Gord still on crutches, all of the outside work on our acreage is mine for the summer, and so my time is filled with many, many things. And my end-of-day computer time is usually spent reading other peoples' blogs instead of writing on mine! I have a feeling July and August will be much the same, but I will try to at least post a few pictures of how things are growing in the next week or so....

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Mini Book Review: Dharma Punx

Some weeks ago I had had seriously bad and potentially career-changing day at work, and decided to splurge and buy myself a new book. I had been eying Noah Levine's book, "Dharma Punx: A Memoir," over the previous several months, hoping to find it at my semi-regular visits to my favorite used book store. But, I never did, and so when ever I found myself in a retail bookstore I would sneak-read a few pages of Dharma Punx. But then came The Bad Day: I threw all of Green Bean's excellent advice and restraint out the window and made a bee-line for the first bookstore I could find. It was a big box store and I didn't even care, I just bought the book, brand new. And my eyes and brain devoured it, page by page.

I suppose it is fairly ironic to have used a book about buddhism as a way to avoid thinking about my Bad Day, but I am certainly glad I bought the book, even under those less-than-admirable motivations and circumstances. Noah Levine has a way of making Buddhist ideas come alive, and showing how piercingly relevant they are in our society today, regardless of any other spiritutal/religious beliefs you may or may not have. His Dharma Punx book is an exposition of how he went from being a seriously drug-addicted young person frequenting jail, to a clean and sober maturing person living a life of compassion and service to others. It is a stark, blunt, riveting and yet ultimately joyous book. He has since written a second book, called "Against the Stream" which outlines the teachings of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) , whom Levine affectionately refers to as "Sid." I really want to read that book too, but I am doing my best to wait for it second hand -- so far so good!

As a result of reading the first book, I stumbled on to Levine's two websites. On these websites are several of Noah Levine's dharma talks, in podcast form. I have been enjoying these down-to-earth talks immensely as I attempt to wait patiently for a chance to read Against the Stream. I see it is availabile through inter-library loan via my local public library branch. In the meantime, I will happily listen my way through Levine's podcasts on topics such as money, patience, meditation, impermance, relationships, forgiveness and women and Buddhism.

Now to check out those library hours....

Thursday, 18 June 2009

'Cloning' Aspen Trees

On our small acreage we have a spot where there used to be trees, but there isn't. When this house was being built (by the previous owners), a section of the aspen poplar trees was graded away, probably to make the septic field. Other than this ~25 ft long section, the rest of our acreage is ringed with these aspen trees. We refer to the place with no trees as 'the gap.'

We have attempted to fill 'the gap' with tre
es in a couple of ways already. First, we tried to dig up some little aspen trees from elsewhere on the acreage and re-plant them. This didn't work, because, as we found out when we dug them up, they don't have individual taproots. Instead the new little trees emerge from the buried roots of bigger trees. So these uprooted little trees died in short order, even when we managed to dig one out.

Our second try was to buy some pre-rooted seedlings from a tre
e seedling company last summer. These were bare-root saplings that were each about 1 1/2 - 2 feet high. We planted five of these aspen saplings in 'the gap' at the same time as we were planting about 20 other small trees (maple and spruce) from the same company all around our place. Well, it turned out to be pretty much impossible to keep up with the watering on all of these trees. (I don't recommend planting this many trees at once unless you have someone at home who can commit to watering them as often as they need it, which was pretty much every day.) We did keep them alive for a few months, but then the deer nibbled the tender tops off, and later the neighbor mowed over the property line and took one tree down to about three inches. Even that one lived for a little while, but this year it is quite dead. One of those five trees has leafed out a little bit this Spring, so there may be some hope for it.

I would love to just go out and buy some 10 ft tall aspen trees to fill in the gap, but that gets expensive. The nurseries also tend to stock more 'decorative' varieties than this one, so chances are trees from a nursery wouldn't really look right in the gap anyway. So, when I found this "rootpot cloning" system, I decided to give that a try instead.

First, we picked out 10 trees that looked healthy and were not too big and not too small. Then, I
followed the instructions as best I could and used a paring knife to cut a small ringed section of bark out of the tree stem - this is called the 'wound,' apparently. Some rooting gel goes on this 'wound' to encourage roots to emerge from it. Next, I dunked the folding rootpot into some water, to fill the reservoir at the bottom of the pot. Then I put the folding rooting pot around the tree stem and clicked it shut. In went the moist, soil-less potting mixture, while taking care not to wipe off all the rooting gel from around the 'wound.' Then I put on the dark stickers, to keep the light from the newly growing roots. Finally, I topped the pot off with its dark colored lid. Once a week I add water to the reservoir with a syringe - this part has proved the most challenging so far since the place to put the syringe is so small, but I have managed it. (But I'm not looking forward to it when there are tons of ants and mosquitoes around!)

According to the rootpot people, in about 8 weeks there will be a rootball formed in the rootpot which, when severed from the rest of the tree will give me a free-standing sapling equivalent to one that is about four years old (3 - 4 feet high). I can then plant these ten sapling 'clones' in the gap, all for a total investment of about $30 dollars and a few hours of my time. The stems of the trees I lop off in 8 weeks should regrow other branches, maybe even with some kind of topiary effect. So I am not killing any trees in the process, which is good - I want more trees, not fewer.

I'm quite excited about this whole process, and I'm really looking forward to having 'the gap' filled in at last. There is something about an unfinished circle that makes me want to try and complete it, somehow.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Hope in the Garden

This morning I went out early to water the garden before the onset of the heat of the day, and was greeted with the sight of many new sprouts. It is amazing what sufficient water will do! (Too bad it is from the hose and not from rain.)

There were some strawberry blossoms, so maybe I might have some strawberries in August or so. Some of the plants didn't survive the winter, but most have at least a few leaves.

There were also some radish sprouts, after nearly a
month. I'm assuming they just didn't get enough water to sprout, since last year they were up in just a week or so. There are some chard sprouts too - very tiny, but they are there.

My one cucumber
out has been toasted, I don't think it will live. And so far there have been no more cucumber sprouts coming up. Maybe now it is too wet for them?

Very good news is that the carrots have finally sprouted as
well. I had a chance to take a look at my sister-in-law's garden this weekend, and once I was reminded what carrot sprouts looked like, I could finally identify a few in my own garden. The potatoes are also doing quite well - they seem to be coming up earlier than last year, believe it or not.

More and more peas are emerging as well. Some more beans continue to fight upwards too, but I think the plants that were killed off earlier were the strongest ones, so I may still have quite a reduced bean crop. I may have a few bean seeds left: maybe I will replace some of the dead sprouts and see what happens. Perhaps we will be fortunate and have a warm Fall - I can hope for one, anyway.

The garden seems to be one of the best places to find hope, actually.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Gardening gets tough in Spring '09

In almost every way, this Spring is turning out to be a completely different gardening experience than last year.

In Spring '08, it seemed like the seeds I planted all sprouted nicely, grew steadily, fended off pests and even the odd hailstorm. Rain fell from the sky in reasonably-timed doses, and by early July I had a lush garden from which I had already harvested most of my nearly perfect radishes.

I guess it was time for me to learn a few different things in Spring '09. So far, the marigolds I planted to help keep the deer away were frost killed the day after I planted them. On June 1st. Yes, frost in June. The cherry tomato plant I bought from the local nursery at the same time suffered the same fate. And that wasn't the last day of frost either - about two nights ago we had another frost.

My little bean plants, which valiantly weathered the multiple frosts, have since succumbed to a combination of no rain and full sun. I had been watering the garden regularly, but not regularly enough, apparently. Yesterday morning when I went out to water it again, all the bean plants were dead, and the one pumpkin sprout was completely gone. No doubt it had been nibbled by the critter whose footprints were in the (as yet sproutless) carrot patch.

Peering at the scalded and crispy bean plants I knew they were beyond re-hydration. The garden that looked so full of promise just a week earlier was bleakly barren, with only a couple tiny, struggling kale sprouts poking through the dirt. Not even the radishes had sprouted, and it's been almost three weeks since I seeded them. The weeds of course, are doing fine. For a while there I was despondent. Devastated even. Swearing. Tears. Not fun.

The only thing left to do was to pick up the watering can again, and keep the seeds still waiting to sprout moist enough. Not all the bean plants had sprouted, at least half were still to come. And there were still peas, carrots, potatoes and cucumbers waiting in the soil for their turn.

Later that evening, I went back to the garden to water again, and there was some hope still: several pea plants had come up, and one potato was sprouting. And sure enough, one or two more beans were pushing through the soil. No more pumpkin sprouts, but there's still time yet. I got out the sprinkler and set it up again, deciding that these new plants would not die of drought, at least not while I still have enough water in the cistern to water them.

So, ok, I lost a few beans and a pumpkin. Imagine what it must be like for a farmer who looks out onto his/her fields and sees an entire frost- or drought-killed crop. I know when I looked at those withered beans I was sure glad there was still the grocery store and a CSA share to depend on, at least for now. I'm thankful I have the luxury of time to make some mistakes and learn from them. I'm also thankful I am growing a garden myself, because this Spring '09 weather is surely affecting my CSA farmers and other Alberta farmers and gardeners. We no longer have the luxury of putting all of our agricultural eggs in one basket: it's time for everyone to start growing a garden, even if its just a small one.

So, what are you planting, and how is it doing?

Image of this very determined potato courtesy Warm Fuzzies

Ongoing internet problems

One of the joys of living off the beaten path is that internet service can be very sporadic. I'm still pondering stuff like crazy but can't upload anything because my internet connection only lasts for about 15 seconds each time. I'm told the problem could be fixed as early as today, and I remain hopeful....

Sending well wishes to everyone along with a reminder (to myself as much as anyone) to stop and take time for tea, and enjoy the Spring.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

In the Face of Bankruptcy and Bill 44, Gardening.

Yesterday was strange.

The announcement that General Motors was indeed going bankrupt came early in the morning - it seems I am now a shareholder in that company, along with every other Canadian (and American), their kids, and their kids' kids. Not quite the kind of investing I'm accustomed to making. I would have liked a little more say in the matter. Frankly, I'm quite nauseated at the idea that a company can run itself into the ground, obtain billions of dollars of government bail out money, THEN go into bankruptcy, get rid of its debt and then come out of bankruptcy a few short months later all shiny and new, with squeaky clean books and no lessons learned. Um, shouldn't you have done that in the first place? I guess the saying 'live by the sword (of capitalism), die by the sword' only applies to ordinary people, not to multinational corporations who make large donations to certain political parties.

And then, to cap off the day, Bill 44 is passed. This is the most embarrassing, petty and vindictive legislation I have ever seen the Alberta government pass, and that's saying something. The Alberta government takes more than 10 years to add sexual orientation to their list of things that can't be discriminated against, and in the same bill back stab the people whose rights they are supposed to (finally) be protecting. And now teachers have to be afraid that every time the topic of sex, sexual orientation or religion comes up, they risk being hauled in front of a human rights commission. How can you teach people that human rights apply to everyone, when you can't talk about how those human rights apply to certain groups? This isn't governance, this is manipulative, gamesmanship, and Stelmach and Co. should be ashamed of themselves. What are they so afraid of, anyway?

So. In the face of so much soul-destroying crapola, what is an ordinary person to do? Well, it looks like more and more people are doing it*: veggie gardening. This year two of my close neighbors have planted medium and large size gardens and one of them is also keeping chickens! And another one of my family members is starting a garden this year as well! Do they feel the soul destroying crapola too? Or maybe they, like me, just want to witness something green, true and full of pontential again, instead of listening to the lies, spin and overall decaying putresence that oozes from our politicians' mouths on a near-daily basis.

It's funny, the only time I feel clean these days is when I have garden soil on my hands.

(*Uh oh. I said 'doing it.' I hope the Alberta government knows I didn't mean anything sexual by that. Well, except there is a lot of sex in gardening, all that pollination and pistils and stamens and, oh my, those crazy hermaphroditic earthworms. Wait, does this mean that parents can pull their kids out of classes on plant and invertabrate biology now? Hmmm...)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

'Big Garden' 2009

I think this year I may have managed to get the best of both worlds: raised beds without having to build any actual raised bed structures. For this idea I have to thank Steve Solomon and his book, Gardening When it Counts.

Last year when we first put in the 'big garden' I had yearned for nicely enclosed raised beds. That didn't happen (we had mistakenly bought treated lumber instead of untreated) and it turned out just fine. But I so loved the neat orderliness of the raised beds. Then, over the Winter, I started reading Solomon's book, and thought it sounded like a good idea when he suggested shovelling the dirt out of what I wanted to be pathways (for ease of weeding and watering) and onto the adjacent part of the garden patch. So I shoveled out a central path, and then three cross-paths and lo and behold, I had eight nicely raised beds. Plus I didn't 'waste' the dirt in the pathways by just tromping down on it - it was moved over to where it could do the most good - i.e., nourishing my veggies. What with this and my new rock pathway to the garden itself, I am one contented gardener!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

A New Path

Yesterday our very helpful neighbor and friend, 'Farmer Joe', came by with his tractor-sized rototiller and enlarged my veggie garden plot. He also kindly tilled the pathway to the garden, so I could properly lay down the flat rocks that I was given last year, care of one of my parents' neighbors. I've had a picture in my head of how cute a rock pathway would be, with herbs growing on the side and maybe some hardy thyme or other ground cover plants in between the rocks. I actually had the energy to lay all these rocks out and dig them in, just the way I've been wanting to. They still need some adjustment, but I was able to get enough accomplished yesterday to be able to visualize my new path.

Which brings me to a story about another fairly new 'path' of mine: being a vegetarian. I've been vegetarian for about 3 years or so. While I have eaten meat about four or five times in that time frame (it was served to me and I hadn't made other arrangements in advance), my intention was and still is not to eat anything that can move about on its own. Making this choice necessitates paying attention to a few things, to ensure my nutrition is complete. Well, it turns out I've been a 'bad vegetarian' and haven't been paying attention to everything I needed to, specifically getting enough iron. This was made very clear to me when my doctor (also new) called earlier this week and said I needed an "urgent" blood transfusion, because my hemoglobin level was so low. I was mildly reprimanded by the doctor, and when at the hospital itself two days ago, I was told by the nurse I was "lucky" to be getting the transfusion. I certainly did feel somewhat guilty for taking two units of blood that should have been left available for car accident victims, or the like. It was a strange, strange day. I have since begun taking an iron supplement liquid, and I will be more diligent in taking my other vitamins as well.

I do feel better after having the transfusion - I can go up the stairs without running out of breath with a pounding heart, and yesterday I could do a morning's worth of dirt-shifting and rock-lifting without feeling drained. (It's amazing what having enough cells to carry oxygen to your heart can do!) In fact there are a lot of symptoms of iron deficiency I'm looking forward to not having any more. And there was no way I tied all these things together as being related to something like anemia - I just figured I was wimpy and had to suck it up. So, if there are any other new-ish vegetarians out there, you may want to have your iron levels checked at your next doctor's appointment!

New path, or not-so-new path, there is always, always something to learn.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Everything and Nothing

That title makes it sound like I might have some kind of profound, yin/yang type of post coming up, but actually it is just a description of the state of my brain right now. It seems crammed full, yet completely blank at the same time, leaving me in a state of bla.

On the one hand, I am so happy to see the Spring birds back again - I spied a pretty house finch in our woodlot and a neat redhead duck on one of the local sloughs. Leaves are popping out and the grass is greening up nicely. I had a nice time working out at the CSA farm again this weekend. The wildfires are under control and Gord is on the mend from his hip surgery.

But on the other hand, I am so disgusted by our Alberta provincial government. Bill 44 - are you kidding me? What an embarrassment. Parents can remove their kids from class in a public school if they object to the teaching of any topic (but particularity evolution or homosexuality) on religious grounds? So if I had kids I could remove them from any class that teaches about Conservatives, right?

And today, Bill 48 - are you serious? You want criminals to pay for their own health care costs if they injure themselves during a crime, but you want to sue big tobacco if smokers get cancer or other diseases. So criminals are personally responsible for their own ill health but smokers are not? And these are subsections of the SAME BILL? Seriously Ed, look up the word "consistency" and try that concept out some time.

All this just pushes my brain into overload and it just shuts right down. It's pretty sad when you have to put your fingers in your ears and sing 'la la la' just to stomach living in your own province.

At least the birds are pretty.