Projects for the New Year

Take on one project this year that will help improve the earth. Just one. If you can manage more, fantastic. However make sure that you are fully mindful of all aspects of your project so that is it done as well as it can be.

For instance, decide to use greywater. If you can physically and legally connect your household non-toilet water pipes to a water composting system and use it to irrigate plants, then do so. If piping is impossible, then hand-carry the dishwater, shower water, bath water and cooking water out and dump it on your plants as often as you can. Make a smoothie for yourself, then clean the blender by filling it with water, blending it, and pouring that nutrient-rich residual around your plants. Yet that is not enough. Use environmentally friendly soaps. Be aware of the plastic content and chemical treatments for fireproofing or insecticide of the clothes you are washing. Plastic is in synthetic fleece, in microdermal skin treatments, in polyester bedding. You don’t have to not use greywater if you are washing synthetic fabric, but you should be mindful of what you buying. Avoid microbeads. Avoid glitter and mosquito-proofed outerwear. Choose your purchases with open eyes, thereby reducing your usage of these toxins. Build good soil to help clean the toxins from the water. 

Compost. At the very least, use blender compost.    That means, take a handful of soft kitchen scraps, put them into a blender, fill with water, process, and pour the very liquidy mixture around your plants. Don’t throw away any food scraps, egg shells, leftovers, sour milk, moldy refrigerator mysteries, paper towels, tissues, paper napkins, cotton Q-tips, cotton balls, cotton dental floss, hair, or anything biodegradable. If you can’t blend it up and pour it onto the earth as fertilizer, then dig a small hole and bury it, or make a pile and compost it, or layer it in a raised bed or in a lasagna garden. What leaves your house in the form of trash should only be recyclables and undecompostable items. Your garbage disposal should be rarely used if ever. Put this raw fertilizer into the ground, not into the dump. Be mindful of what you are buying and whether it can be composted or not. 

Plant trees. If you are in an area with too much rainfall, you need the trees to take up the water, hold the soil and buffer the onslaught of the weather. If you are in a dry area you need trees to shade the ground, to capture ambient moisture and rain it down, to cover the hard earth with leaves. All areas need perches for animals. All areas need the oxygen supplied by the trees converting carbon dioxide gasses. All areas need reforestation with natives that thrive in indiginous locations. Be mindful of what kind of landscape you are planting. If you choose non-native trees that offer no food for animals and harm the native flora, then you are not helping. In San Diego, if you plant eucalyptus, ficus, Washingtonia palm trees, Brazilian or California peppers (not from California, but Peru), or many of the sterile fruitless versions of ornamental trees, you are taking away from the landscape rather than adding to it. I can’t begin to count how many neighborhoods I’ve been in with old plantings of ornamental plants and trees, and the area is so sterile of animals that they are like wastelands. Only survivor crows and sparrows (and loose cats) can be seen. Instead, areas with native trees are rich in many species of birds, and the insect population is under control as well. Water use is low, pollinator habitat is high, and the neighborhood feels alive and well, especially if the cats are safely tucking inside where they belong, as mine are.

Recycle. I am constantly stunned to see recyclable bottles and cans thrown into regular waste. The percentage of what is recycled that actually processed is low, too. So choose glass over plastic. We bought camping utensil sets to carry with us, refuse straws, and this year I’ll work on bringing containers for leftovers when we eat out rather than take a clamshell plastic container or Styrofoam one. I already wrap banana peels, leftover pastries, apple cores, and whatever is biodegradable in a paper napkin, bring it home and compost it. If you have a plastic water bottle, soda can, glass bottle, or anything recyclable, please put it in the appropriate container. Recycling has been around since I was a schoolgirl, and I can’t believe everyone still doesn’t do it.

Switch makeup. My daughter is particularly good at finding vegan, Fair Trade and non-GMO skin care products for reasonable prices. Neither of us use many cosmetics, but the lip and cheek color, eye color and moisturizers we use, as well as our daily soaps, are ethically and environmentally sourced. Why rub harsh chemicals into your eyes and mouth? The choices grow every day, and the prices lower all the time. Do your homework. Be mindful of what you pick up in the store. Remember that what you put on your skin is also washed down the sink and into the water table, or into your greywater. Support the businesses who have ethical business practices. This goes for men, too. Shaving cream, after shaves, toner, scent, hair products, etc. Your skin will be healthier for the change.

Shop local. Pick one or two local businesses that you know practice sustainable, ethical and conscientious business practices, who give back to their community, and give them all of your support. Buy from them, advertise for them, befriend them, give them moral support. Rate them highly on Yelp, Google, or other rating systems. Watch out for them to be sure that they can succeed. Work for them if possible. Adopt them so that they have success.

Go animal and dairy free at least one day a week. I cannot go into the scope of the damage to the environment and the horror of the treatment of food animals here. Dare yourself to find out for yourself. Read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Find out what happens to cows and their calves in dairies, and the heartbreaking lowing of the cows -always kept pregnant to produce milk- as their young are hauled shrieking away to be slaughtered for veal. If you think that fish and shellfish somehow have no nerves or instincts, then think again. Lobsters who are by nature competitive being held in freshwater tanks, their claws bound, among their competition, starved, and then boiled alive. If you shrug and turn away from the suffering from others, then perhaps you should analyze your food sources more. You condone practices if you support them with your wallet. So set aside a meatless and dairy-free day once a week. If  the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. The UN  has said that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from the worst effects of climate change because of the heavy environmental impact of raising livestock. Not to mention the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet; diabetes, cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure and so much more is rooted in diet. Make a Meatless Monday, or a Vegan Wednesday, or whatever, and avoid pouring cheese sauce all over some steamed veggies and calling it a good meal.  Have a curry, a Turkish Eggplant Stew, a dairy free mushroom stroganoff, spring rolls, veggie lasagna, heavenly steamed eggplant, a portobello sandwich, stir-fry, bean and avocado burritos, try some non-GMO meat substitutes like those from Gardein (particularly their fish!) (no product placement, just a recommendation), or make your own seitan. Make your own vegan butter. Let your body and the environment have a break for a day.

Help Out. Choose a local charity, or a needy neighbor, and provide what they need. Don’t just give them what you want to get rid of , or what you think they should have. Often people just need reassurance or a friend to talk to, or possible solutions, or a hand for a day. Donate what your charity needs, and if that is money then do it. Help with a fundraiser. Volunteer your time. Do something to truly help someone else out, without asking for praise or cosmic bonus points in return. Don’t be a pain; be a blessing. Volunteering and helping out make you feel worthwhile and surrounds you with like-minded people who can become your friends.

 I have found many of my closest friends through volunteering.  Be aware of large, nation- or world-wide charities who use most of your donations for salaries and infrastructure, and very little on what they are supposed to be supporting.  Don’t let the big names fool you. Use your money to help honest charities in your area, or by just sending money to people who need it, anonymously.

Whatever you choose to do, do it mindfully. Pay attention to the details, to where products come from, to the business practices of the charities and stores you support, to how animals and people are treated in the making of the products, of what is in what you handle every day. You don’t have to, nor can you, take on the world’s problems, but you can focus on one thing and stick with it; make it part of your day-to-day until it is habit. Then move to a second choice. What you do, what you buy, what you say and how you spend your time cause ripples across the earth, and being mindful of your influence will send out help rather than harm.

Happy New Year. Be healthy. Be kind. Be happy. You matter.

The Ethics of Permaculture, and Getting Through Disastrous Times

The three main ethics of permaculture, according to the late Bill Mollison who wrote the Permaculture Design Manual, are 1. Care for the Earth, 2. Care for People 3. Return of Surplus. These ethics are what keep me soundly grounded in permaculture, and what we humans need to embrace in our everyday lives especially now in the face of environmental disaster. As I write, millions of people are trying to recover from travesty from hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, severe drought and unprecedented amounts of rainfall. That is above the starvation and political unrest that is ongoing. What is also happening to the millions of species of animals and insects, not to even think about all the domestic animals and livestock, who are also victims of these disasters isn’t even in most people’s thoughts. We live in the Anthropocene epoch, which means that now humans and human action determine the fate of everything else on earth. We have that much power. We are children driving a double-shift semi on a busy freeway going the wrong way. 

Instead of sinking into depression and denial, every one of us can make subtle changes that will help. Understanding these permaculture ethics and putting them to work in our homes, our gardens and our workplace WILL help, and will influence others to do the same. 

When I was a very easily-influenced young person, the church our family went to began a campaign around the slogan: God first, Others Second, Me Third. I took that to heart, and being naive, it also made me into a doormat for anyone with a stronger personality than me, which was practically everyone. This slogan serves the church by demanding support, instills guilt and creates identity issues. I didn’t realize that until decades later. What would have happened in my life if I’d have known about permaculture when I was in college? If I’d heard and embraced the three life-giving ethics then? Without caring for the earth, we have nothing. Did you know that over half of the oxygen we breath is created by phytoplankton in the ocean? And that all those insecticides and herbicides that are sprayed in backyards and on crops run into the ocean and are killing the phytoplankton at enormous rates? Trees and plants provide the rest of our oxygen, and with deforestation, desertification, and out of control weather catastrophies trees are dying. People are not replanting trees at a rate that will help. So where will our oxygen come from, if our first ethic is not Care for the Earth? The church’s slogan sounds devout, but it doesn’t focus on real world issues. It makes religion the most important thing rather than keeping religion in your heart as you help in practical ways. You can belong to almost any religion and embrace permaculture ethics. They work well together.

Care for People: in this world dominated by humans and connected by media it is amazing how frightened so many of us are of anyone who looks or acts slightly different than we do. How racism is alive and well, and flourishing in and under the current US administration. How governments are torturing their people in so many countries, and this is 2017! We learn history in schools for a reason, to not let the hatred repeat itself, but we aren’t teaching it well enough to make a difference. So caring for people has to be an ethic that is enacted on a daily basis. Help those you can or at the very least, just be nice. Overreaction, intolerance and obscenities seem to be the fashion, especially for young women. It began several decades ago and it still hasn’t stopped. Women don’t have to be hateful and insulting to be recognized. Realize that people act the way they do often just because they don’t understand another way to think. Just smile at those around you and see a smile back. It may help that person not mistreat someone or something else or even themselves that day. You don’t know what others are suffering from or with, so give them the benefit of the doubt.

Caring for People also means to care for yourself. Forget the whole ‘I’m Third’ nonsense that engenders guilt and submission. You are not last. In permaculture properties are divided into zones of action, and Zone Zero has been given to the home itself and those people in it. You are Zone Zero, the most important part of the design. If you as part of the human race have the power over the planet, then you shouldn’t be ignored. Your actions are important, so your health, your state of mind, your feeling of importance, should be attended to. Not that you are royalty, just that you are important. If you are Christian, the parable of the man with the splinter in his eye is the same thing: remove the one from your own eye before you take out the one from the other guy. Take care of yourself so that you can help others better. Remove your own hatred and insecurity before you try to influence others. Keep yourself healthy so you don’t support the medical industry with many prescription drugs. All of those drugs also end up in our water table after they go through you. Treat your body to healthy food and exercise. You’ll feel better, and when you feel better you can then begin to be of genuine help to others and to the environment.

Return of Surplus: Have extra time you waste? Volunteer. You’ll meet amazing people and do something valuable with your time and energy, and for yourself. Have extra fruit and vegetables? Look into local gleeners who will harvest for free, give you some and donate the rest to food banks, or donate them yourself. Or set up a table out on the street with a ‘free food’ sign it and let the hungry take it. Is your recycle bin or trash can full? Why? What can you compost? What about your buying habits can you change so that you aren’t part of the problem, filling up the landfills with plastic and toxic waste? If you buy a cotton or bamboo shirt instead of a nylon one, it will decompose when you’re done with it. Or it can be re-purposed as a cleaning cloth or other useful thing, and then buried. Buy cotton Q-tips instead of plastic ones.  Do you have a place to plant native plants? Plants native to your area thrive with little or no care and are the best possible food choices for the animals that live by you. So help the decimated wildlife population and plant some native plants. Check the ingredients on what you buy. Do you know what any of those are? Do they include palm oil? Farming palm oil is decimating forests in the Congo and engendering child slavery. Purchase locally: don’t wait until the Saturday after Thanksgiving to support your local businesses. Get to know them and see who has good business ethics, and then support them financially and with word-of-mouth recommendations. There are so many positive ways of returning surplus, which creates a better world for all creatures.

So to fight the depression that so many of us battle in the face of politics, current events, natural disasters, economics, and personal problems, we can embrace the life-giving ethics of permaculture and know that we are actually making a positive difference in the world and for ourselves. Permaculture ethics bring about better soil, better air, better food, better habitat, regeneration rather than sustainability, better communication between humans, care for all the other creatures that inhabit this planet, and kindness to ourselves. Permaculture isn’t a religion. It’s ethics transcend race, age, sex, economics, politics and education. Guilt-free. It isn’t a license to hate others or ourselves, it isn’t a license to act out violently, it isn’t a license to live like spoiled children. Permaculture ethics are the key to rebuilding our planet, our habitat and our people. And they are so simple to follow.  So today make some small choices that will have large ripple effects. Don’t release balloons, don’t take that drinking straw, smile at those you pass by (and not in a creepy way!), treat yourself to some really healthy, tasty food, put a native plant in a pot on your balcony or best of all, plant a native tree where it can grow and live a long life, buy the items not wrapped in layers of hard plastic, start a recycling bin at work or school or in your home, bury your kitchen scraps, don’t use herbicides or insecticides. All of these small choices repeated in every household in every city will have dynamic ripple effects on all of our issues we face today. You can do it. We can do it. Don’t give up.

Zone 0: Taking Care of Yourself

I just spoke with a vibrant, funny friend of mine who happens to be in her 90’s. She told me that she had slipped in the bathtub and couldn’t get out (it was dry) for a day and a half. She beat on the wall hoping her neighbor would hear, and then finally heard someone walking their dog on her lawn and she screamed until the woman called 911. Fortunately she only broke a couple of ribs, but is black and blue and deeply embarrassed. She couldn’t reach the taps, which are placed high for easy access, so she was dehydrated, not to mention hungry.

Another friend several years ago fell in her home, hit her head, and couldn’t get up. She was there with her poor dog for three days until someone came. She is only in her sixties, and she never fully recovered from this; she’s since sold her home and moved into a senior care center.

Still another friend years ago slipped, hit her head, lay on the floor for several days, and then died before anyone came.  A horrible death for a wonderful woman.

My yoga teacher, Ann Wade from Wade Into Fitness here in Fallbrook (a well-deserved plug!) is always preaching that you must be able to get up from the floor. It seems so simple, but without practice those muscles can be lost.  She’s also big on balancing exercises, which help you prevent falls. 

One of the three ethics of permaculture is ‘people care’, and fundamentally that means your own personal health. In permaculture, designs are defined by zones of usage, from 1 to 5, and your personal health is often referred to as Zone zero, or the epicenter of everything that happens. You can’t do a lot of good for others if you are ill, yet there are few of us who keep a good balance of food and exercise. Some are hypochondriacs, some overwork figuring the body just has to keep up (I’m a bit on this side). Your body will always hand you the bill in your middle and old age for what you’ve done to it early on, so be good to yourself.

This post is for all ages. If you get up and down from the floor easily, keep it up. Practice. If you have a hard time or can’t, then you have to work on it. No matter your age you can build muscle. Make sure that your arms are strong enough to pull you up. Work on balancing exercises in a safe environment. Find a healing yoga class or strength-building class and practice your balance and your ability to get up from the floor. 

Please take care of yourself, for your own sake and for the sake of your family and friends, and for all those people who look forward to seeing you smile. 

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.  Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.  By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.   They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.  Tours begin promptly at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.  I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda

The Albedo Effect: How Bare Earth Causes Wild Weather

This week's 100F+ temperatures and high Santa Ana winds have fueled three fires close to us.  It is May, not October.

This week’s 100F+ temperatures and high Santa Ana winds have fueled three fires close to us. It is May, not October.

Albedo is a reflection coefficient.  In layman’s terms it is the effect that happens when sunlight is reflected off of white areas.  There is the high albedo of bare earth, snow and ice, and clouds, and the low albedo of water and vegetation.  There is less reflection from dark areas such as off of water and green areas, and darker areas, just like dark clothing, absorbs more heat rather than reflects it like white clothing does.  There are arguments that we should cut down all the trees to increase white space to stop global warming.  NO!  The plant life that occupies the green spaces transpire water and excess heat into the air, causing cloud cover. Clouds, of course, insulate the earth from the sun and their albedo effect is cooling to the earth, not to mention that clouds amass moisture and – bingo – you get rain.  It is the loss of green areas and the desertification of large masses of Africa, and the in-progress desertification of the already drier areas of the world (such as California) that makes the albedo effect one that is helping warm our climate.  Great tracks of land now reflect light into cloudless skies; water sources dry up and plants die so transpiration disappears.  The loss of air-borne water (evapotranspiration)  allows areas around the desert area to also dry out.  The rapid change of climate due to desertification, loss of topsoil and the resulting erosion and the melting of our ice caps (creating larger oceans and thus larger thermal masses to reflect heat) causes severe weather patterns – weather patterns that balance out huge dry desert areas with destructive rain and wind storms in other areas.  Drying areas ignite… here in San Diego North County there are five fires burning as I sit, and heavy smoke and ash rain down on everything between them.  My house is not threatened at this time, but we may be evacuated.  So many people are evacuated right now and the highways are packed.  There is another fire near San Diego, and two between here and Los Angeles.  It is May – usually we have these temperatures, wild winds from the desert called Santa Ana winds, and fire threat in October.  Our lack of rain doesn’t bode well for California.

My point is that to help balance nature out again, we need to hurriedly lessen the amount of reflected light in areas where we were traditionally covered by plants.  We need to plant.  We need to plant native plants.  We need to re-green our landscapes, in each backyard and vacant lot, as quickly as we can.  Allow the plants to keep moisture in the soil, to slow flooding, to transpire moisture into our atmosphere so that rain comes back to the desert areas.  We need to hold what rain that falls in our soil by burying wood (hugelkultur), by creating level swales and mulching, mulching, mulching.  Yet on trash day I see bags and bags of leaves set on the street ready to go to the dump. We need to stop erosion areas by using whatever means we can to keep the topsoil back.  We need native trees with long roots that will hold the soil, build topsoil and transpirate.

Of course you probably can’t afford lots of plants, so plant natives that will quickly grow large.  Between the slower-growing oaks, plant sages, mallows, ceanothus, quail bush and other bushes that cover 10 -15 feet of dry earth.  Under them will be moisture, protected soil with mulch from their leaves, and habitat for lizards, frogs, small birds and hundreds of insects.  These bushes will help shade young oaks, sycamores, and other trees and keep their trunks from scorching.

Throw down seeds of California fescue (Festuca californica var. parishii) to hold soil and cover the dry, reflective areas.  This native grass is tough and doesn’t cause trouble like non-native grasses.  You can seed it with California poppies, lupine and other native flowers.   Aggressively weed out non-native species.

Since I was little, in the 60’s, I heard the mantra ‘plant a tree’.  Obviously we haven’t been doing that.  I think it should be changed to ‘plant a tree and don’t cut down any more because the earth can’t afford it’!

Please plant!  And all my hope goes to you and yours who are threatened or have had losses from our severe weather.

It Might As Well Be Spring: an Indulgence in Prose

First daffodil

First daffodil, face to the dawn.

Mornings find me waking before sunrise, throwing cats off my bed, rousing my elderly dog for her morning ablutions, and scampering down to the hen house in my robe and slippers (and some mornings warm hat and scarf) to feed the hens and the wild ducks, and the tortoise.

Viola seeing what new seed is available since the night before.

Viola seeing what new seed is available since the night before.

 Last night when I let Sophie out for her final walk of the night the Santa Ana winds were like a warm caress, riffling through the palm fronds in the dark.  Orion sparkled overhead, moving into the position it was in for the birth of both my March babies half a lifetime ago.

Mourning doves in a morning sky.

Mourning doves in a morning sky.

This morning the air was expectant.  The garden seemed to emit a trembling energy; an excitement roiling to the surface, but afraid to burst out in full in case of another frost.

Vanilla-scented heliotrope.

Vanilla-scented heliotrope.

Indeed another cold front will be moving in with much-needed rainfall later this week.  For now, the bold grasses are up and reckless early stonefruit have blossomed out, much to the joy of the hungry bees.

White peach.

White peach.

I could almost hear Browning’s Pippa chanting in my head.  But not too much.

The ornamental pear trees all around town are in full glorious bloom.  Yesterday while driving from the Community Center to the bookstore there were enough petals strewn in the road as to cause a whirlwind of white as I drove through.  An eddy of petals around my car.  Joy.

Almond just breaking bud.

Almond just breaking bud.

This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, as well as my two regular bird count days for Project Feederwatch.  Before breakfasting I filled seed feeders and enjoyed the show while eating my fresh egg, asparagus, toast and cinnamon tea.  Twitterpating is definitely in the air as birds pair up and rival mallards chase each other over the big pond.

A white crowned sparrow splashing his friend.

A white crowned sparrow splashing his friend.

A Northern mockingbird sips from the bird bath dripper sizing up his territory and listening for new sounds to add to his repertoire.  A buzzy rufous hummingbird guards the nectar feeder from the larger and flashier Anna’s.  A long-mated pair of crows hang out preening each other on the telephone wire.

A green-white pond calla.

A green-white pond calla.

Frogs are croaking amorously in the damp rushes. To my complete joy, far earlier than the bulbs strewn across the property which are just peeking green out of the earth, just outside my window are early daffodils and sweet violets, two of my favorite flowers.

Daffodils, Earlicheer narcissus and a little blue squill.

Daffodils, Earlicheer narcissus and a little blue squill.

It is still February, and I’m not that great a fan of such a beastly month as February , but for today the paperwork will lie ignored, the cold weather clothes will stay in the laundry basket, and after I take my cat to the vet I will spend the day in the garden (although that isn’t so unusual for me, is it?) listening to the Nuttall’s woodpecker try to drum holes into the telephone pole and smell the scent of Gideon’s trumpet flowers.

Sweet violets.

Sweet violets.

I look forward to tomorrow when I’ll be making two new friends, and to casting seed which will add new life to the garden.

Easter will be early this year.

Easter will be early this year.

It is all about possibilities, and possibility is definitely in the air today. I will believe Punxsutawney Phil that although it is technically winter, for today it might as well be spring.

A meeting of the  minds.

A meeting of the minds.

Change in Status

I want to petition Facebook to add another relationship choice for my status.  Single is such a lonely word.  If you’re young, then to be ‘single’ means ‘available’.  When you’re middle-aged, single means ‘bad relationship history’, or ‘too much baggage’, or ‘was always chosen last for sports in school and nothing has changed.’  To have a status of single is camouflage for the ugly ‘divorced’ term or the sad ‘widowed’ term.  None of these evoke attention or enthusiasm on the part of the beholder.  Over a certain age the question isn’t, “Are you single?”, but “WHY are you single?”  In other words, “What is wrong with you?”  Then anyone checking you out starts searching your Facebook albums for photos of a huge number of children who don’t match each other, or a long suspicious gap in your employment dates.  To be listed as single when middle-aged is negative; its depressing.  Its lonely.

That is why I want to change my relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘unsupervised’.  How much more freeing and exciting is it to be unsupervised than just single?  It conjures up wild abandon, mysterious trips, breaking rules, being silly and being old enough to get away with it all.  Unsupervised: the no-no of the classroom, the parental horror of the teen years, the anathema of the workplace.  How fun is that?  Single + middle aged = rocking chairs and increased doctor visits.  Unsupervised + middle aged = spontaneity and surprises.

So I will consider myself unsupervised and see if the change in term also liberates my behavior even a little.

But then, I have cats, so maybe I can’t consider myself unsupervised.  Especially at dinnertime.


Fall Morning


The birdwatching garden.

I use the kitchen table as a work center, but spend a lot of time not working.  That is because from the big dusty windowseat, through the spiderwebs that catch sunlight in the corners of the glass I watch a fairytale of animals.  Song sparrows with their formal stripes and classy single black breast spot hop along the uneven flagstone walkway.  The walkway, recently weeded, is again being compromised by sprouts.  The small pond wears a heavy scarf of peppermint along its north side, and a mixture of fescues and waterplants around the south.  A waterlily bravely floats pads on the still water after having been drastically thinned last month.  A calla lily opens partially white, partially green.

Below the window in a dish of seed set low for ground feeders are house finches, the males’ proud red fading like the leaves of the Japanese maple behind the green bench.  Lesser goldfinches skeletonize the leaves of sunflowers that have sprouted from birdseed; a nuthatch and a mountain chickadee take turns on the hanging suet feeder, both noisy and reminding me of pine forests.  A pair of crows who have lived near this garden for years, but who have been about other business during the summer, are reunited on the telephone line.  She grooms his feathers and he leans into her.  I’ll have to put treats out for them, to keep on their good side.  A Nutall’s woodpecker looks like a childhood toy by hopping straight up the big pine.   I grin a welcome to a couple of white crowned sparrows, the forefront of the migratory flock.  These spirited and chatty birds shuffle leaves onto my walkway every morning, and I quite happily sweep the leaves back for the next round.  It is a ritual just between us.  A young scrub jay swoops in with much show, seeing how big a reaction he can get from startling the smaller birds clustering at the feeders or taking warm dirtbaths. He lands on a small trellis and pecks out seeds from a sunflower I propped up after its yellow glory faded.  Finches visit when he leaves and take their share of this high protein food.

House finch nabbing sunflower seeds ( photo taken through a dirty window! Sorry!)

The outside water is turned off; I should be on my knees in mud down by the chicken coop right now fixing a break in the pipe but I am held here by the autumnal light. Even in the morning it slants at a kinder angle, bringing out the gold in the leaves. Later when the water resumes the dripper on the bird bath will start and sparrows, finches, towhees and random visitors will sip drinks and take cleansing baths.  One of my favorite sights is watching a group of finches taking turns in the bath, daring each other to stay longer and become wetter.  Their splashing sends a cascade of drops into the sunlight.  They give Finch Frolic its name.  Now the only visitors are honeybees taking water to hydrate their honey.  I emphathize with these bees.  Only the older females do the pollen gathering, carrying heavy loads in their leg sacks back to the hive until they die in flight.  A useful life, but a strenuous and unimaginative one.

Perhaps  today there will also be a house sparrow, or a common yellowthroat or a disagreeable California towhee, what everyone knows as a ’round headed brown bird’.  Or maybe the mockingbird will revisit the pyracantha berries, staking them out as his territory while finches steal them behind his back.  I hear the wrentit’s bouncey-ball call, but as they can throw their voices I usually don’t spot them.  Annas hummingbirds spend all their energy guarding the feeders, stopping to peer into the window to see if I’m a threat.  My black cat Rosie O’Grady stares back, slowly hunching, mouth twitching with a soft kecking sound as if she could hunt through a window. I see that the hanging tray of grape jelly needs to be taken in and washed because the orioles have all migrated. Rosie is given up by the hummingbird and instead she watches cat TV as the birds shuffle in the Mexican primrose below the window.

I don’t see either of the bunnies this morning, Primrose or Clover.  They live under the rosemary bush, and perhaps in the large pile of compost in the corner of the yard.  I’ve watched them nibble the invasive Bermuda grass, and pull down stalks of weedy sow thistle and eat the flowers and seeds.  They do no harm here, and are helping with the weeding; I love watching them lope around the pathways living in cautious peace.

Unseen by me by where I sit, mosquito fish, aquatic snails, dragonfly larvae, strange worms and small Pacific chorus frogs hang out in the pond and under the overhanging lips of flagstone I placed there just for them.   Under the plants are Western fence lizards big and small awaiting warmth from the sun to heat up the rocks so they may climb the highest stone in their territory and posture while the heat quickens their blood.  A mouse scurries between plants, capturing bits of birdseed scattered by the messy sparrows.  The soil is good here, full of worms and microbes and fungus.  Everything is full of life, if you only know how to look for it.  You can smell it.  You can feel it.

Now comes the spotted towhee, black headed with white patterns on his wings and reddish sides.  Once called the rufous-sided towhee, he is bold and handsome, his call a long brash too-weeet.  He sassily zig-zags down the narrow flagstone pathway looking for bugs.

Spotted Towhee grubbing in his fancy clothes, so bright after a molt.

I haven’t seen the rat family for a few days.  The four youngsters invade the hanging feeders, tossing each other off and being juvenile delinquents.  At night I hear the screech of a barn owl, which might be my answer.

The oxblood lilies – always a surprise during the dry and the heat of September, have almost all faded, but sprouts of paper white narcissus are beginning to break ground.  They are Fall flowers here, usually done by Thanksgiving.

It is Fall.  Finally.  The world of my garden is tired and ready for a rest from the heat, the mating, the child rearing, the dryness, the search for diminishing food, the hiding so as not to become food.  Although the days here are still in the high 80’s the evenings bring coolness and a much-needed dampness.  Rain won’t come until November or later.  But we wait for it, the animals, the plants and I.  And time passes as I sit at the table and watch.  I know of no better way to spend an autumn morning.

How Desserts Lose Calories: My Theory

After years of careful scientific research,  I have discovered that food can lose its caloric content under certain conditions.  I’m not talking about after you eat half of it, either.  This thesis, which I firmly hold to be true, gives a little break to all of us who gain weight if we even see a drawing of a donut.  Here it is:

High calorie foods, such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, pastries, pies… you get the picture… lose caloric content when:

They are dropped on the floor.

When they are stale.

When they are given to you by someone who doesn’t want them.

When left over.

When eaten from the container.

When slightly burnt.

When overcooked (different from being burnt).

When eaten reluctantly (food guests force on you and you have to eat some to be polite).

When someone who is a bad or indifferent cook makes them.

After the cat has sniffed them.

When reduced to crumbs in a pocket/purse/backpack.

When eaten other than in their native environment (i.e., ice cream on a cold day, pie in the garden, batter-dipped cheesecake-onna-stick at the fair.  No, wait, that is its natural environment!).

When eaten onna-stick, unless they are supposed to be onna-stick, such as ice cream bars.

When eaten with an unusual complimentary food (donuts and Corona) (something about food combining, like making a whole protein).

When taken medicinally.

When washed down with a diet drink.

When eaten en masse at one sitting (like the heavenly cranberry biscotti my wonderful neighbor makes every Christmas.  They are MINE.)

When eaten with a plain green salad (they cancel each other out). (If you add sprouts to the salad, you can have seconds on the cake.)

When eaten instead of a regular meal.

Of course, this theory doesn’t work if you plan to do any of the aforementioned.  You can’t drop a cookie deliberately and then eat it (ten second rule or no) and expect calories to break off and go skidding around the floor.  This works only when you forget to set the oven timer and the brownies come out dry, but you eat them anyway.  Or if you are laying kitchen tile and someone brings donuts and someone else brings a six-pack.  So what it comes to is this: there is a reward for clumsiness and forgetfulness.  We should embrace and reward our faults.  With sugar.

I hope this theory aids you in your diet.  If you have any corroborating evidence of your own, please comment.  Someday I’ll write a paper on my findings and send it to medical journals.  Won’t they be surprised!







Bamboo: A Rant

It looks innocent enough...

(Note: I’ve modified this rant so that its more of a grumpy bit of advice and some whining.  If you want to skip the rant altogether, just scroll to the third paragraph from the end where I’ve made some heartening observations and have posted happy photos of daffodils.)

I love the look, the feel and the beauty of bamboo.  It is an amazing grass that is edible, durable and because of is fast growth rate makes a renewable building resource.  There is clumping bamboo, which slowly spread out from a main clump, and which can be controlled.  In my parents’ driveway, surrounded by asphalt, there was a patch of clumping bamboo which had been there for… forty year?  More?  It never escaped its boarder.  Then there is rhizomatous bamboo, which sends out underground runners in all directions and can quickly undermine any nearby growth.  Rhizomatous, or running bamboo, can be grown in containers, or you can chance it in the ground if you block it in with an underground barrier that is a good two feet deep, and six inches above ground.  Even then you should watch out for escapees.  Surrounding running bamboo with water is another way to keep it controlled… a bamboo island?

There is a lot of bamboo planted in my yard.  A lot.  The larger bamboo I anticipate harvesting after the culms are several years old and using for trellises or fencing.  The smaller bamboo such as the beautiful black or variegated varieties aren’t that useful to me because of the thinness of their culms, but are very beautiful.

That is until I happened to trip over something in the pathway that reared up and back into the ground like a sea serpent.  It was a black bamboo runner…unconfined invasive bamboo in my garden!

Just one of the 20 + rhizomes from one plant!


Lark and Miss Amelia cluck over the unearthed root ball with severed rhizomes.

I started tracing that runner back to the mother plant.  With some excavation I found that there were about 25 such runners just below the surface, all heading in different directions, all rooting and ready to send up shoots for new plants.  The runners were an even 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick up to their tips.  I stared in horror at the hydra I’d just uncovered, and then looked around.  I had five clumps of black bamboo, and one of variegated, all along a heavily planted walkway.  The plants were one year old and were on the verge of completely taking over one of the main areas of my garden.

Gotta give it credit for eagerness.

(Here the rant really begins, as does the whining!:) Then began the backbreaking and laborious work of tracing all the rhizomes and pulling them up, making sure to get every piece.  The rhizomes were 15 – 20 feet long.  They snaked under my precious heirloom roses, under young citrus trees, under boulders and palm trunks, under other vines, through gopher cages and around the delicate subterranean irrigation system.  The runners had to be pulled up, and since they rooted all along their lengths, when I pulled them the soil would fling up into my eyes.  The clumps were planted where it was full sun and of course, it was a warm week when I tackled the project so I had to stop in the afternoon when I was roasting.  I spent Valentine’s Day, which is a ‘holiday’ I’ve always disliked anyway, sweating, crying, laboring, running into the house to wash dirt out of my eyes, cursing. My dog General had had a seizure the weekend before and still wasn’t eating; I had found out that a person very dear to me had died.  The bamboo was setting me back many days worth of work.  It was not a good week.

Trying to unearth a rhyzome without harming an heirloom rose, but not without scratches!

The mother plants themselves were deeply rooted and had heavy root balls.  I had to use boards as levers to try and hoist them from their holes; several I wasn’t able to pull out on my own and they are there waiting for me to have help.  I was on my hands and knees tracing rhizomes, using a trowel to unearth the runners that went right through the root balls and around the trunks of my roses and citrus. Trying to lever up a boulder or a cut palm trunk with a board while digging and pulling on a thick rhizome was very taxing. It was dirty, frustrating and exhausting work, and merited a trip to the chiropractor, and my wrists and hands are still tingly and numb from the stress.  If I hadn’t tripped on the rhizome, within six months (or less!) that entire walkway area with all of its productive food plants and heirloom roses would have been taken over.  Everything would have had to be dug out, the entire area emptied (and with mature plants, I would have had to kill them or hire help to dig them out) and then the bamboo hand-traced and dug out.

Rhyzome squeezing irrigation line

Lots of irrigation repairs to make

It would have been a catastrophe.  It would have ruined the garden, and would probably have convinced me to give up.  I am one fifty-year-old woman trying to do all the work myself, and I really can’t hire regular help until I begin earning some kind of income again.  I am an organic gardener and will not go over to the enemy and use weedkilling products.

The steadily growing pile of cut rhyzomes.

I haven’t finished with the bamboo.  There is another one that I haven’t started on yet, and I think there is another at the top of the property where it might begin to interfere with the neighbor’s underground cable line that leads off of the pole in my yard.  The access road is littered with cut rhizomes and bunches of cut bamboo.  Several clumps reel in their holes awaiting me to find help to pull them out.  Meanwhile we had a heavy rain and windstorm which made the stream overflow in several places, flooded my chicken coop, and ripped the roof vent off of my new greenhouse (not under warranty, Rion says!  It is broken, and I have to figure out how to keep it on).  Seeds need to be planted, the ragweed laughs at me and the Bermuda grass starts coming back to life. There are trees planted in areas where they are now shaded, or won’t grow successfully, and I need to transplant them; heavy work when they are in gopher cages filled mostly with wet clay.  My hayfever has started up, limiting time in the garden.  So much to do.  And I’m weary of wrestling with the stuff.  A small house with a little garden, up against a wild area, sounds very, very good sometimes.  So take warning when planting anything, or having anything planted: research it yourself and plant with an eye to the future.

An unearthed rhyzome, a good 15 feet long (cut datura on top)

On the plus side, I’ve taken a brief vacation from the cursed bamboo and have planted flats of seeds in the greenhouse.  I’ve finally planted all the bulbs and sweetpea seeds that should have been in months ago.  I planted cold weather veggie seeds in my raised beds, although its the end of the season for them.  I’m enjoying the daffodils that are opening up along the driveway, their happy faces turned in different directions with different attitudes… I swear they have personalities.



Some of the fruit trees are blooming, and my two bee hives are very active.  I’m drawing up plans for my outdoor composting restroom, my outside worm bin, my new (and better placed) chicken coop, and a new composting area.  Best of all, I’ve been able to renew work on a middle-grade novel that I had begun and abandoned several years ago, and I am in the polishing stages before I send it off to an agent and hope for acceptance.  It is very good to be creating again.

"Did you see that?"

In early March, my zumba class ( will be touring the garden.  On the second Saturday in April the San Diego Permaculture group (and anyone who wants to!) will be touring the garden and helping to finish building the cob oven that we started last summer.  On May 12th, the day before Mother’s Day, the garden will be on the Association of University Women’s garden tour.  After that, I hope to have groups in by appointment, with either a fee or a suggested donation.  The weeks fly by and there is so much to do.  Today the birds are crazy with spring, loud with stuffing themselves with seed to be if full health for mating season.  It is still February, so I still have some time before the very hectic spring and summer seasons begin.