D-I-Why Not flora inspiration thinking big

This Way and That

Spoiler: It’s Swedish for “That Way”… 🙂

I finally made my first sign for the woods. From a scrap of cedar milled by a friend, and some paint made from linseed+graphite. It’s in Swedish. Whatever else you know about me, you probably know that I am not Swedish, do not speak Swedish, and have never been to Sweden.

But in a sincere effort at “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, I based this sign on one found in the forest of Maria “Vildhjärta” Westerberg. I recently watched a film about Maria, and her attempt to rewild and replenish her bark-beetle afflicted spruce woods. Made monoculture by her grandfather, for the immediate gains of her mother’s generation…

“…And now comes the bill, to my generation and to the younger ones…”

The planet is tiny and the problems are shared. We see much of the same devastation here in Canada’s woods. Where the skin of many different trees blisters and weeps. Where so many of the ash, their branches like the tines of a fork, stand tall and bold and dead.

“They were supposed to live long after I have died, and they all started to die before me”

Fortunately, there is a lot of life in a dead tree. As both habitat and nursery. But, as I see it, only, only if we finally learn the lesson of diversity. When a forest is rich in species, it is rich in possibilities and resilience. Where oak and basswood and hop-hornbeam and hickory mingle, and cedars cultivate the edges, and young birch stand in the duff on the slope, until they fall and are replaced by the young maple who were waiting at their feet. Then, though many trees might die, the forest may yet survive.

Our forest is only about 75 years old, and I hope just beginning its life. It has been spared until now because of its difficulty to harvest, its terrain, its distance from roads. It has been protected by that most burly bodyguard — inconvenience. But these temporary injunctions do not protect it against the extreme and erratic weather of climate change, or from those insects imported accidentally, who stow away alongside the cheap goods that we must have at all costs. And so we witness and watch as too many of the trees here die too quickly too.

“I cried all the time…”

But action is a great balm for pain. So each year, we pull up DSV and prune away buckthorn. And in the disturbed spaces, along the edges and where holes have been punched through the forest, we plant more baby trees. Add more possible futures. A diverse forest is a far better forest manager than we are of course, and well-suited seeds will find their own way to fertile openings. But from time to time, we dig in a little hope too.

“After my 100th planted tree, I had stopped crying, because I was so tired physically.”

If you do nothing, despair is guaranteed. If you do something, you crack the door open, and hope might be able to find a way in.

“…At my 800th tree, I started to feel some kind of strength and hope. And I was eager to wake up in the morning…”

I highly recommend the film, “Rewilding a Forest” by Campfire Stories.

Happy Friday everyone 🌳


D-I-Why Not technology

Open Source

“You have to cultivate fearlessness.”

~Vandana Shiva

Let’s talk about cucumbers… and software.

When we deliver software to a client, it’s often as something called a binary. That’s the cucumber. The finished product.

Many software companies these days don’t share the seeds along with the cucumber. The fruit is sterile. It comes with no viable means of making another, no source code. That’s closed source software. If you want another cucumber, you have to go back to the company you bought it from — and be charged whatever and however they like for the privilege.

Or you can stop eating cucumbers. Your choice.

When we create software under an open source license, we give you the cucumber — and the seeds. Plant them in your garden, or a neighbour’s. Grow as many as you like.

There is one condition. Some fine print…

You have to keep passing the seeds along.

“Seeds, especially of food and other useful plants, should be taken care of by the people. They are too precious for all of them to be placed under the exclusive control of the few. The more hands that hold them, the safer they will be.”

~Jude and Michel Fanton, The Seed Savers’ Network, Australia

An open source approach recognizes that we are contributors, that our work has value, but also that we are neither the beginning nor the end of the line. We’re inheritors of the work that preceded us, and we want to be good ancestors for the work that comes after. It also recognizes how much our modern world relies on software, and how crucial that it stay open to scrutiny.

To produce good food — or good code — reliably, takes experience and skill. (Both disciplines, for instance, require a good working knowledge of bugs.) And so, many people will choose to have us grow their cucumbers. Just because you have the seeds, doesn’t mean you’ll plant them. But it means that if you needed to, you could. Or your neighbour could, or your children can.

Some problems are perennial, and I don’t know which future will take root. I have very little say in that. But I do live here in the present, where all today’s tomorrows are sown. So I can choose which tomorrows I’ll cultivate. Which future’s seeds to sow.

“It all comes back to gardening.”

~Vandana Shiva
D-I-Why Not repair technology

Bricky and Friends

Bricky and friends.

You’ve already met ‘Bricky’, my smart-enough flip phone with the tiny touch screen. Update: It is everything I hoped it would be. It also closes with an endlessly satisfying k’thunk. Which makes it easier for me to literally close that world away, and go look instead at plants and bugs and books and such.

I bought Bricky because I needed a working phone-phone, but I didn’t get rid of its predecessor, a Moto g6. (Even though we never bonded, and my favourite thing about it is still the mushroom sticker I put on the back.) I also didn’t get rid of the phone before that, an Asus Zenfone.

I’ve tended each of these phones so they still work and have a job here. Together, these three kinda-shoddy phones add up to exactly what I want from my technology. It’s like if Voltron was made up of cracked screens and weak motors, but also told you great stories, always had the best recipes, and didn’t bother you while you were trying to sleep.

Sleep is the bailiwick of my Zenfone, on the left there. After several years of hard use, its charging port stopped working. I couldn’t be without a phone at the time, so I replaced it. But a few months and a new part later, I was able to pry the Zenfone open and solder it back to life.

Since the Zenfone is too old and SIM-card-less to cause trouble, it gets a pass on the no-phones-in-the-bedroom rule and lives there. Where it’s still fast enough to play meditation prompts, guide stretches, or play a chill inspiring video or two when the noise and worries of the day are a bit too loud.

The moto g6, right, is the Zenfone’s successor. Because it was in stock, unlocked, inexpensive, and ran Android. But after a few years, the screen cracked, charging and audio got flaky, and eventually it stopped ringing. It held all my calls, whether I wanted it to or not.

The g6 is designed to be unrepairable (boo). BUT I don’t need to repair it for its new job in charge of once-a-week Instagramming, morning YouTube-ing, recipe googling, app testing, and quick camera…ing.

Right-to-repair can’t keep up with planned obsolescence, and the new-new is always calling. But sometimes old+old+old might equal something better. 💚

birbs D-I-Why Not wild inklings

A place for owls

Great Horned Owl. Painted with oak galls, acorns, and saffron (locally-grown).
When I was a kid, my favourite book was “Granny’s Gang” by Katherine McKeever. It’s the story of Kay and Larry’s life with various injured/orphaned/recovering owls. (The titular “Granny” is a spectacled owl.)

I grew up in the ‘burbs of North York. First in a townhouse, then a house for awhile, then a townhouse again. There were a few wild pockets scattered around the cul-de-sacs and train tracks. And I was lucky to have them. But if there were owls around, I never encountered them.

Owls lived in dreams and imagination, not my neighborhood.

Forty years later, I live in a different habitat. Here, owl song signals the start of winter. I’ll dash outside some night in December. Taking out an overripe compost bucket, or doing a final chicken check. And though I’m probably not wearing a coat, I’ll take a moment to look up at… 🎶hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo🎶 …the stars.

The call interrupting my thoughts announces the magic is happening again — the owls are picking their partners and territories. Baby owls are just around the corner… Literally.

For some, winter is a time of rest. For others, deep struggle and hard won survival. For the great horned owl, it’s baby-making time. They are very early nesters, and in Ontario, by January-February, proceedings are well underway.

For now, the owls can call this place home. Humans too. Though both our perches here are fragile.

Whatever else we do here, our life’s work is the protection and encouragement of the little forest where we live. To try and pass a healthy woods forward for the humans and critters we hope come after us. Full of big trees and baby owls, and all the critters we see and hear — and all the ones we don’t.
🦉📖: In my 30s, I learnt Kay’s centre is in Vineland Station, Ontario. It still operates today, as The Owl Foundation. It was a dizzying discovery, like learning The Jungle Book was real and you could get to it by TTC. I was incredibly fortunate to meet and thank Kay before she passed. Secondhand copies of Granny’s Gang can still be found, renamed “A Place For Owls”.


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! ♻️


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!