John’s Review of Auld Lang Syne

John posts a version of this every year, and in years I remember, so do I.



Happy Solstice

A commission for the wildly wonderful Jess to end off the year. 💜

We take our big break in the winter. Our kerchief and our cap, the woodstove, the furry animals, and the snowy woods have all been waiting patiently for us. Our invisible internal batteries — brains, hearts, and spirits — are blinking red. Time now to rest and recharge.

Happy Winter Solstice everyone! ❄️ Have a wonderful holiday season and see you in the new year 💙

~Kate & Neil

D-I-Why Not homestead

Holz Hausen!

My first off-brand, extra rustic Holz Hausen! If you know what these are, and lovingly craft them yourself, please look away. I mean you no harm or offense.

A Holz Hausen is a self-supporting way to season firewood — to dry it out before burning. Some folks use it as an all-in-one: both to dry green wood and store it. So when I needed to relocate our firepit wood off a rack this week, it was time to try making one of these aesthetically pleasing little scamps.

I usually see “holz hausen” translated as “wood house”. But Translate refuses to corroborate that. I couldn’t convince it “hausen” meant “house”, no matter how many leading questions I asked. Google much preferred “hausen” to mean: “live”, “hang out”, “wreak havoc”.

Wood for living, hanging out, and wreaking havoc. A fine definition for what takes place at a firepit. (Only the best wreaking havoc that is. In the language of social change, the kind of havoc wreaked by “positive deviants”…)

We visit with friends and family outside these days, and the firepit is a nice focus for wintry socializing. It’s also where I like to putter solo in my downtime. The firepit might as well be invisible for all I look at it over the summer, but when winter rolls around, I feel a driving need on Sunday mornings to pull on a snowsuit and go fry eggs in the snow.

Our firepit burns all our oversize and/or gnarly wood. By definition, wood is only there if it is a PITA. Which also means that my raw material was rough.

But I am part of the generation who believes nothing is unstackable, so long as you are humming the Tetris theme song. (Fun fact: It is called “Korobeiniki”, and is a very fun song to learn to play on ukelele.)

And I am surprised to find the Holz Hausen handled all our outlier wood like a champ! At ~4ft around, mine is half normal size, so there was a lot of improvising. And yet, though it’s only had a few days to prove itself, this island of misfit wood seems to be one solid little structure.

As our friend Em eloquently put it: “It’s a nice place where order and chaos meet… and have tea.”

Cheers to that. May order and chaos sit together in balanced companionship more often. ☕🌳

baking D-I-Why Not homeMADE

Snow (Pan)cake 2023

Our first proper snowfall here this morning, and you know what that means — it’s SNOW CAKE DAY!

❄️👩‍🍳: A longstanding tradition in my family — the day of the first real snowfall, when the ground first snuggles under a full blanket of snow, you bake a “snow cake”.

🎂⚗️: A snow cake doesn’t require a particular recipe. Any white cake with white icing, made to celebrate the first snowfall, will do. A specific cake is not the assignment. The icing can be slapdash or meticulous, whatever you like. The project of snow cake-ing is just about taking time to notice and enjoy the season. If you’re like me, and run around the house calling out “it snowed it snowed it snowed!”, you may already be a fan of winter. And if you’re not, well, eating a fresh piece of cake might just take the edge off. 😉

🎂🎂🎂: I’ve made so many snow cakes over the years, all different shapes and sizes. Decades of them. Vegan, layered, single cupcakes, you name it. Since neither of us is doing great with gluten at the moment, this year I made gluten-free snow pan-cakes: fluffy gf pancake mix topped with simple icing sugar icing, finished with the best sprinkles (<-fight me).

🎂🍩: And… it might be my favourite snow cake yet. It tastes like a donut. 🤯 But without losing valuable icing real estate to the hole. I shall call it… The snow-nut.

Wishing you a beautiful wintery day folks!
🎂🔗: If you’d like a tried-and-true snow cake + icing recipe, you are welcome to use mine, posted here.


birbs D-I-Why Not homeMADE

3D Cornstarch

Compost-aments! 🐦♻️

Ornaments made with just cornstarch, baking soda, water, and… a 3D printer? 😉

🐦🔧: Everyone and their brother sent me Woodlark‘s cornstarch ornaments — and I’m glad they did! 😂 Beautiful DIY ornaments made from the pantry?? Count me in! But instead of making a star garland, I fancied bird ornaments. Only trouble is I didn’t actually have bird-shaped cutters…


🐦🧠: I like to say Maker’s Dozen’s favourite place to work are the places where art+tech+nature intersect. There’s nothing I like more than smooshing different parts of my brain together… Sooo let’s do this!

🐦📝: I started by drawing a few bird silhouettes in Affinity Designer*, imported them as SVGs to Tinkercad, did some tinkering and extruding to make them 3D cutters, then exported them as STLs for my Prusa to slice, dice, and print. Perfect! Time to make some cornstarch birds!

🐦👩‍💻: Bonus — My office is far from the woodstove, but the dehydrator lives in here, and running it makes the room nice and toasty. So instead of baking the cut ornament shapes in the oven, I dried them in the dehydrator. Whipping up a nice batch of ornaments, while also keeping your computing fingers good and toasty — win-win!

🛒📏: I love working with raw materials that are solid enough to be real, but ephemeral enough to go back to the earth when their time is through. And to let my brain cross-pollinate between what can be computed, grown, baked or built. It makes sense the lines between all these endeavours are more porous than they first appear. After all — as maker Felix Schelhasse once so beautifully put it — the kitchen is actually just a workshop for groceries.

Have a good one folks!

*I left Adobe in favour of Affinity a few years ago. Subscription model software is often unnecessary, frequently insidious, and rarely in the customer’s best interests. Fortunately solid alternatives are still out there, if you look for them. 👍

D-I-Why Not homeMADE repair

Re-duce, re-use, re-fill it with chocolate

Upcycled-recycled chocolate calendar adventure! 🍫
🔎🦌: I love searching for things and finding things. Back in our Toronto apartment, Neil would hide quarters around the house for me to find. Like, the same quarters, over and over. Under books, on my nightstand, around my computer.

He’s a good egg.

🍫🤢: Enter chocolate calendars. I still like them, even now, happily knee-deep in my middle age. So I still get them for myself. I like searching for each day’s number. Although because of the middle age thing, I am *much* less tolerant of calendars containing terrible chocolate. (As a child, I didn’t believe such a thing existed…).

🍫⛽: Last year I got a calendar that was really and truly awful. The graphics were great, the ethics were there, but the “chocolate” was like nibbling a candle. A cheap one made from oil industry effluent. Pass.

What it had going for it though was great little shapes. So I saved the box and insert, thinking perhaps this year I could give DIY a go…

🍫🛠: Fast forward to last weekend, when I made simple coconut oil chocolates and froze them in the tray. And… success! Ingredients in the photo below: equal parts coconut oil+cocoa powder, plus some sweetener (homemade maple syrup), and good salt — mislabeled here as “vinegar dill pickles”. The cabbage was just also there.

🍫🧙‍♂️: So the calendar of daily disappointment has been remade as one of daily DIY joy, filled with yummy little homemade chocolates.

📝: Improvement recs welcome! I hadn’t made these chocolates before. And while they *taste* delicious, I got some unexpected clumpage and separation in the cocoa powder/coconut oil. Perhaps because my cocoa is dutch processed? Anyone who knows more than me about chocolate (so pretty much everyone), please send me your tips for next year 👍👍

There are some things we should probably leave behind in childhood. Pettyness, selfishness, hitting people when you’re angry… But I submit that if you left things behind that once brought you joy, well, go look for them again. I bet they’re still there waiting for you.

Have a great one folks! ♻️


fauna thinking big

Good and Bad Animals

Trail camera footage of two does fighting, captured on a trail camera while steward of the Northumberland Land Trust’s McColl property.

We have a standing rule in our house, and it’s that Neil can and should wake me up for animals. If the motion light comes on, or there is an unusual scurry across the roof. Neil goes to bed much later than I do, so if he hears a nighttime critter, I want him disturb my slumber. I can always get more sleep later, but a flying squirrel perched on the window is right now. And if it stars a flying squirrel, I’m happy to have a waking dream. (Unfortunately our cat Oliver also observes this rule, occasionally jumping into our bed with a mouse in his mouth at 3AM. I prefer the flying squirrel dreams. The Oliver ones drift a little closer to nightmare…)

The same “come and get me for critters” rule applies during the day too. If an excellent caterpillar like an Imperial is spotted in the yard. Or a porcupine shuffles through the woods. Or a ruffed grouse is tightrope walking the poplars. The wildlife here is both abundant and secretive, and I don’t want to miss the glimpses.

The rule applies to all critters. The “good” and the “bad” ones. Whether it’s an opossum triggering the motion light, a baby raccoon discovering the bird feeders (I must remember to bring those feeders in at night…), or a possible sighting of a saw whet by the chicken coop. I want to see them all.

The line of good and bad animals is drawn in different places for different people. Those who have lost chickens to fox may have more trouble seeing a canid’s russet beauty. You’re probably not delighted to encounter a milk snake if you have a fear of things that slither. A bad childhood experience with a domestic dog could easily leave a person wary of coyotes.

And then there are the cultural baggage, biases, and bruises we carry of “good” and “bad”. Painted turtles good, snapping turtles bad. Dangerous animals and tame animals. Clean animals and dirty animals… Cute animals and ugly ones. Even “predator” and “prey”. But the more critters I encounter and observe, the more I learn about them, the less these divisions hold meaning for me.

I structured so much of my understanding of the world around models that aren’t just out of date, not just expired, but were never true. Bears growl, bunnies are sweet, the tiny are afraid of the large. “Not so”, nature keeps gently reminding me here, “not so”.

Take the alpha wolf. Dr. L. David Mech, the scientist who popularized the concept of “alpha male” wolves in his 1970 book “The Wolf”, has devoted a sizable part of the rest of his career trying to explain he was wrong, and requesting, unsuccessfully, that the publisher stop publishing his earlier work:

The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature, at least partly because of my book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” … Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years than in all of previous history.

One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. “Alpha” implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today…”

~Dr. L. David Mech

As for growling bears, ask someone who works with bears and they will tell you that bears hardly ever growl. It’s just not how and when they vocalize.

As Mike McIntosh who runs the bear rehabilitation centre Bear With Us put it (here): “They don’t make a lot of sounds that we often hear and think they make. Bears are usually only vocal when they’re either afraid or in pain. Most of the time they’re quiet”. The cartoon version, it’s not just a caricature, it’s a lie.

Like the lemmings who were dumped over the cliff in the fake
“documentary” that shaped so many of our understanding of those rodents — it was not, is not, and never was true. Sweet little rabbits will fight each other, as will docile does. Father birds will sit on eggs, mothers will build nests. We either just didn’t look, or didn’t see.

Similarly, the tiny are not always intimidated by the large, and prey don’t always give ground to predator. One spring evening we were having dinner when the character of the birdsong out the window suddenly changed, like someone had abruptly clicked to the next song, mid-track. I looked out the window and saw a feathered kerfuffle unfolding in the large maple tree in our yard. A sizeable hawk was perched on a branch, but not for long. It was being pelted at all angles by tiny birds. A variety of tiny birds. Nearby small nesting moms and pops and various bystanders were having none of this large bird in their midst. Now that we’re aware of it, we’ve seen this “mobbing” behaviour many times since.

It is not uncommon to see a group of blackbirds or swallows chasing a hawk or eagle, or a group of songbirds fluttering and calling around a perched owl.

Such “mobbing” behavior is probably the most frequently observed overt anti-predator strategy. Nevertheless, the exact purpose of such noisy group demonstrations remains a matter of some debate.

…one function of mobbing may be educational–to teach young birds… Another may be to alert other birds to the presence of the predator, either getting them to join in the mobbing or protecting them, since a predator is unlikely to be able to sneak up on an alert victim.

Much is lacking in our understanding of mobbing. It is not clear why predators don’t simply turn on their tormentors and snatch up one or two of the mobbing birds. If they did, presumably mobbing would quickly disappear; that it persists suggests that surprise is an essential element in raptor hunting.

~The Birder’s Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl

But this isn’t about a victory of tiny birds over the big mean hawk either. David and Goliath stories stir the soul, but no one is the villain in their own story, and the tale is of course different from Goliath’s perspective. A “predator” has its own beautiful babies to feed. Its own soaring life to support. Life-Death-Life, around and around we go. The fierce and the delicate, wrapped up in one package.

I met my wise and wonderful friend Tess Miller when I was a volunteer at Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre, where she was a member of staff. She’s cared for a wider variety of animals than most of us will encounter at a distance, in a lifetime. While we were mucking out enclosures and hand-feeding critters, Tess shared a lot of insights into animal behaviour. As she put it: “Once you have the chance to work with or observe any animal, you will grow a strong admiration and appreciation for its abilities to survive, regardless of what those abilities are.”

I have a theory that so many of these good/bad, cute/ugly divisions come from a discomfort with our own complexity. Our own times of growling, or being dirty or disheveled or annoying. That we think creatures have to be cute to be loved, or “alphas” to be worthy, because of our own deep-seated fears. When we can’t completely accept our own shades of grey, we pedestal some animals as ideal, and pretend they are something they’re not. In doing so, missing the beauty of their — and our — complexity. How beautiful the “ugly” animals are, and how gentle the giant beasts. The shining texture of a snake, an earwig mother doting on her babies, two does striking at each other with their sharp hooves.

“It’s not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild nature fades.”

~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

A world without good and bad guys, with no alphas, no roaring bears or ever-sweet bunnies is a more confusing and beautiful place to be. Up is down, down is up and sweeping statements just sweep away the truth. When the truth, it turns out, is so much stranger than fiction. So much more interesting. So much more beautiful and compelling and frightening. So much more… hopeful.


A version of this article also appeared in the OWA‘s The Ontario Woodlander.

D-I-Why Not gardening homeMADE homestead

Unwrapping the greenhouse experiment

Well that’s a wrap — maybe unwrap? — on the Great Car Tent Greenhouse Experiment 👍
🎪✨: The verdict is 8/10, would-do-again. We had an excellent year (for us) in green peppers and eggplants. Chiles and jalapeños did well. And an unexpected bonus of two pawpaw seeds germinated in there! Those are now planted on the hillside, with chicken wire protection against the wild roving rabbits of winter…

🌱🥉: The tomatoes did meh, though I’m not sure why. We got fewer in the greenhouse than from the much shadier raised beds. The lemongrass was fine but not riotous. The carrots hated it. The basil was content and industrious.

🌱✨: I try to be like that basil. These efforts are not about being perfect. Or self-sufficient. I don’t think either of those things really exist. Like it or not, we’re all tied to each other to survive. So it’s not about off-grid, but a better grid. Fewer trips to the grocery store for world-weary produce and packaging. More trips to a farmer, or the garden.

💚♻️: And to do my part in that grid, I figure I have to try and pitch in with what I’ve got. Which means trying and learning and failing and trying again.

🍓❄️: When I’m in the garden in the summer, it’s hard not to just stare at everything going “wrong”. Seeds that don’t sprout, produce that doesn’t produce. I had loads of failures this year, as always. From peas to beans to lettuce to carrots. Some even resown so I could fail twice (or more) in one year. Fail fail fail fail.

🐿️🌰: And yet…here we are. Heading into winter with a freezer partially stocked with our own fruits (mulberries + raspberries) and veg (beans, beets, green peppers, tomatoes). And other goodies literally draped around the place. Chile pepper garland, braids of garlic. A little pile of potatoes. Willow dried for Abbie. Teas and herbs for us. Seeds.

And a whole growing season of trying and learning under our belts, with more ideas germinating for next year.

🐿️🔥:I think those ideas need to be cold stratified though, so I’m gearing up to wind down with some glorious hibernation, nestled by the fire till spring.

Have a great weekend folks!


D-I-Why Not homeMADE

Bunnies all the way down

Bunny from bunny! It’s rabbits all the way down 🐇♻️🐇
🐇🧶: This bunny is needlefelted with homegrown angora fur, courtesy our rescue rabbit, Abbie. The chilly temperature declared an end to my maintenance work on our log home for the year. So I celebrated with a bit of impromptu fireside felting, to kick off these long dark crafty nights.

🐇🔥: I love all the critters we live alongside, but I’m probably *in* love with Abbie. Which is probably why we’ve persevered in caring for an *angora* rabbit who *doesn’t like to be groomed*. (Two different vets described her as “…spirited”. That’s my girl.)

🐇🌿: Not grooming isn’t an option for an animal who will, y’know, die if you don’t do it. (That isn’t hyperbole either. See ‘wool block’.) But we have a system now that Abbie finds acceptable. It involves two adult humans with soothing/fast hands (me) and steady/sure hands (Neil), plus yummy dried willow leaves as a thank you snack.

So Abbie stays healthy, and I have bags of her wooly extras. Some of which we donate to the birds for nest building, some we use in the gardens, some for felted bun-ception fun.

🌿🧪: And fun with invasive species too. The pink used for the ears and nose — technically known on a bunny as the ‘floppity-loppities’ and the ‘wigglesniffer’, respectively — is wool dyed with fermented buckthorn bark.

🐇☁️: I felted the body quite firm, but then added a topcoat of floof. Next time around, I think I might go full floof. It’s the Abbie way.

Have a great week folks!


D-I-Why Not homeMADE technology

Automata: The Scrappy Flying Machine

The scrappy flying machine! 🐦🛠️

🛠️💔: I first posted about this automata in August. When, after months of 5 mins here and half an hour there, it was nearly complete. All I had left to do was glue the handle to the axle… And then the handle broke, along with the axle.

And I asked myself the question that makes or breaks many projects: “Am I looking for an excuse to stop, or a way to keep going?”

🤕♥️: I gathered up the broken pieces — of both me and the automata — and got to work on it again the next day. Because my heart wanted so bad to build this beautiful little frankenbird…

🐦⏳: I still needed to fit this project into the corners of my day, so in one 5 minute block, I cut off the broken handle. In another, I drilled out the broken axel. In another, I started shaving down a replacement… etc etc until a week or so later I glued the new handle onto the new axel onto the old gear and… LIFT OFF!

🐦♻️: It’s the details of this automata I’m most proud of. Because it is scrappy in materials as well as spirit (I like to think it takes after its mom…). It’s made from buckthorn branches, and broken cedar coathangers, and a glue-damaged board, and offcuts, and offcuts of offcuts. The gears are handcut. I bought the screws and washers, but everything else is found, foraged, and upcycled.

🐦✈️: I’ve been wanting to share it in motion for awhile now. It’s got quite the wingspan though, and I couldn’t work out how to film it. But when I came in from chores today I realized the stepladder I was carrying might be a serviceable tripod, if I propped my phone against my hat, and cleared the sunscreen and chicken treats off the front hall table… Success 🙂

🐦💪: I’m super proud of how these scraps of time and wood alchemized into more than the sum of their parts, and built the stuff my dreams are made of.

🐦💡: So I guess my lesson to myself is don’t give up on your dreams when they break. You never know… in the end, they might still fly.

Have a great one folks!
Automata design and instruction by Eduardo Salzane.