QoTD: “That makes it beautiful”

It wasn’t so much teaching them how to carve masks, I thought I’m going to teach them how to unlock the creative side of themselves.

So what I did was I went to the art store and I got I think 7 or 8 easels and all these canvases, with the canvas already on the frame, like these pictures, blank canvases, tonnes of paint, and laid everything out, and I told the kids I don’t care what you guys put on this canvas as long as you feel strongly about it.

There’s no such thing as an ugly painting if it’s something that you feel inside of you, that means it’s beautiful. And if you can put that on canvas that means it’s the truth, so that makes it beautiful. So there’s nothing that you can put on this canvas that will be ugly.

So don’t feel weird because you don’t have the right technique. If you feel like painting flowers and you feel sunny inside, that’s good, that’s the truth. But if you feel ugly inside and you want to paint something dark and scary that’s good too, that’s because it’s the truth, so that’s still beautiful.

Eric Schweig, from his interview with Friends United
flora thinking big

The Car Park

At Toyota, waiting for car service. I always wait outside if I can. Every waiting room seems to have a TV, spewing bad news on my lap. Out in the real world, the news is at least mixed.

I’ve spread my picnic blanket out on a patch of garlic mustard — or is it creeping charlie? — behind a line of supersized pickup trucks. Their hulking metal forms the back wall of my improvised porch. A short chainlink fence straight ahead warns lazily about the high speed highway beyond. I could jump the fence easily, and I am terrible at jumping fences.

But to my right is a tiny green tangle — a few yards of plant life. And the longer I look, the more threads I see. Purple loosestrife is woven with yellow salsify, stitched through with queen anne’s lace. Patches of white sweetclover, pops of sunny goldenrod. Tall swishing grasses, and the velvety stalks of sumac. Some plants I recognize, some I don’t know. I look them up, though my phone is old and battery life is precious. Knapweed, burdock, birdsfoot trefoil.

I’m alone back here, save for the guy a few dealerships to my left, who is working this fenceline with a weedwhacker. But he’s going slow, and I’ll probably be gone within the hour. I doubt he’ll get to me and this little thicket before then. If we’re lucky, he’s only working his dealership’s particular domain, and his weedwhacker will be stopped by a line in the corporate sand.

Chicory’s pinwheel flowers bloom mauve nearby. On each one is an iridescent green sweat bee, harvesting pollen. The chicory harvested, the bee moves on to the pretty pink rosettes of the field bindweed. I notice another little green bee, then another. Transport trucks storm past us. Decorated with logos of eagles and tigers, their bellies are full of fossil fuels and plastic.

I get up to investigate some burdock, and when I return, three tiny grasshoppers are sitting on my plaid blanket. Dandelion clocks that have run out of time float past and snag on the nap of the fabric. The four of us sit surrounded by wild carrots, raspberry, and grapes, with a few plastic takeout containers chucked on top.

I look up at the summer sky and spot a tiny bird chasing off a crow. The tiny bird is so very tiny, but nevertheless, it persisted. The corvid flies past another invisible line and, triumphant, the tiny bird sails back home. I can’t make out what sort of bird this is, this stalwart little spirit. It’s a David and Goliath story, with the part of the pebble played by a self-slinging bird.

The guy with the weedwhacker is inching closer, fighting against all the life that’s already made it up and over the fence. It’s whacked and whacked but the green just keeps coming. Already, the bindweed slinks undaunted over the harsh gravel meant to keep plant life at bay. As if the gravel were a river, and the bindweed were thirsty for more.

It’s all about as simple as everything is, which is to say, not simple at all. Most of these plants are invasive or introduced. I drove here today, and I will drive home. I’m woven into all sides of the story. Sometimes I cut down the green, kill the bug, and whack at “weeds” too. But, as Amy Krouse Rosenthal said: In the alley, there is a bright pink flower peeking out through the asphalt.

A. It looks like futility.

B. It looks like hope.

insects and arachnids thinking big

Black Widow

Less than 1% fatality.

🕷️🌯: That’s the science on being bit by a black widow. Not instant death on saying the words, or looking at a photograph. You don’t keel over from walking past one, or letting your eyeballs rest on her. This beauty, undisturbed, is living her best spider life. Hanging out, deciding what to have for lunch. Today, I opted for a veggie burrito, while she settled on a well wrapped bug. To each their own.

I don’t want to be blasé about her venom though. I have not experienced a black widow bite, and I hope to keep it that way. I’ve read the pain can be very real, and the risk is greater for the very young and the elderly than it is for me.

🕷️📵: But humans have a gnarly tendency to fear all the wrong things. We are quick to spin tall tales around small dangers, but slow to act on the real but boring or difficult ones. Otherwise rational people learn a black widow — generally shy and timid spiders — was once seen in a field, and run straight back to their car to drive home doing 140kph. While texting.

🌬️🕷️: To be clear — I am also afraid of black widows. Not the spider herself. She is exquisite. But why she is here… Now that does worry me. Like ticks, climate change is shifting their range further north. Lines on a political map don’t define where critters live, habitat does. Wherever they can survive, that’s where they’ll be. And Canada’s welcome is not so cold anymore. This tiny spider’s presence is a sign my habitat is changing. She is a glossy black canary in this coal mine.

🛤️⤵️: The world around us is screaming to pay attention, but we are driving too fast to notice. I hope that as individuals and communities and municipalities and provinces and nations that we learn to pump the brakes in time, and chose a different direction.


Additional black widow reading:

CBC article on black widows and climate change

CBC article on ticks and climate change

About the Northern Black Widow (Michigan State University)

About the Northern Black Widow (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

thinking big

Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

A short personal note for context, and then unsolicited advice. After all, unsolicited advice is the meat and potatoes of being a woman. If being a woman came with a slab cake, “You’re doing it wrong” would be finely scribed on the top in festive font. A list of corrections would be iced on every surface, wrap all sides.

First, the personal — Though I am in possession of a fully-functioning uterus, I decided long ago it wasn’t a good idea or necessary that I bring more children into the world. At least not the world in which I find myself, and the world I see coming.

This is probably the decision I’ve made that gets me the most derision, and colourful comments as to my character. Even today, there are many ways of being a woman that seem to be sand in the world’s shorts.

The world makes a pastime of telling women we are either not enough, or too much, or, somehow, both. A trap with snares at both ends. It’s enough to make a person skittish.

So for today, instead of that, here is my anti-advice. “Choose Your Own Adventure” advice. Ready? Let’s go!

🚪🛤️: You don’t have to be a mother, or a wife. You can, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to be strong, neither do you have to be weak. You don’t have to love nature, or science, or philosophy, or art or math or mechanics or history. You can, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to feel a kinship with any particular gender. You don’t have to be close to your family. You don’t have to crave companionship or shun solitude. You don’t have to need help, nor turn away assistance for your achievements to “count”. You don’t have to be mystical or divine or graceful. You don’t have to be pragmatic, magnanimous, conscientious or sweet. You can, but you don’t have to.

And, for any or all of the above, you don’t have to agree with me, as I don’t have to agree with you. But I do hope you will agree with this — that you are enough. Deserving of love and kindness, opportunities and happiness. You’re enough at the end of your journey, the middle, and the beginning. Exactly, exactly as you are.

Happy IWD folks!


thinking big

Making Family

Being a maker goes well beyond the workshop, to the thoughtful crafting of culture and community. So with Family Day on Monday, how does a person make “family”?

Make family out of whatever knits you to this world, and holds you together. You can be a family of one. Or, if you like, your family can include critters, or trees, or sunsets. (All three make good listeners and stalwart friends…) Or maybe your family includes a human or two or three or many. A partner, partners, children, wise elders, dear friends… You name it. The possibilities are endless, and none of them are mandatory.

Family is a bespoke creation. And like any good project, it’s a work in progress. It iterates and changes. It gets broken. It gets mended. People now long gone may have built its loving foundation. Or perhaps it had a bad foundation, and you’ve had to start over. That’s alright. How a project looks in the beginning might be quite different from where it ends up. No matter where you start from, creativity, patience, and perseverance may yet yield something beautiful.

With whomever you find care, love, understanding, empathy, and grace… Wherever and however you feel safe, whole, and loved. That’s how to make family.

Have a great long weekend folks!


thinking big

Winter Word: Apricity

Apricity: “the warmth of the sun in winter”

“This word provides us with evidence that even if you come up with a really great word, and tell all of your friends that they should start using it, there is a very small chance that it will catch on. Apricity appears to have entered our language in 1623, when Henry Cockeram recorded (or possibly invented) it for his dictionary The English Dictionary; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words. Despite the fact that it is a delightful word for a delightful thing it never quite caught on, and will not be found in any modern dictionary aside from the Oxford English Dictionary.”

from Merriam-Webster’s Winter Words

On Saturday morning, I went for a tracking walk with OWA. It was -20 and change, but woodlot folk are hearty folk. A couple of dozen people went tramping around a beautiful property, looking for signs of other critters tramping around.

We were looking at the footprints of a fox skedaddling over a wood pile when the sun suddenly appeared. I don’t always notice the sun’s absence on a cloudy winter day, but I always notice when it re-appears. It doesn’t provide the same blazing heat of a summer sun, but whenever I am enveloped by its brilliant sparkling rays, I am warmed from the inside out.

The time for apricity is passing. I’m certain we’ll have a few more big blasts of snow this year, a lot more treacherous ice, some wintry mix, and at least a couple of surprise storms. But I saw my first robin today, and I’ve been told the sap is already running. Time to tap. I would prefer a longer colder winter, with more time to disrupt invasive cycles, more time for the hibernators to rest. But while we do what we can, it is what it is. For now, I’ll be savouring the last of this year’s winter, while waking my thoughts of the brighter bolder suns that are around the corner.


homestead QoTD thinking big

There is no substitute for fire

“Television often gives focus to a room, but it is nothing but a feeble substitute for something which is alive and flickering… The need for fire is almost as fundamental as the need for water. Fire is an emotional touchstone, comparable to trees, other people, a house, the sky. But the traditional fireplace is nearly obsolete, and new ones are often added to homes as ‘luxury items’. Perhaps this explains why these showpiece fireplaces are always so badly located…

Less monotonous and less abstract than flowing water, even more quick to grow and to change than the young bird… fire suggests the desire to change… it magnifies human destiny; it links the small to the great, the hearth to the volcano, the life of a log to the life of a world.”

“A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander

🧣🧦: I like layers with my layers. So most systems at our place have backups or partners. We have an electric heat pump that keeps our home at “I hope you brought a couple of sweaters” warm. But to get truly toasty in the fall and winter and spring, we turn to our woodstove, Calcifer.

🍞🥓☕🧼👖🚿🐔: Besides heating our home, our woodstove has baked our bread, made our coffee, served up nice crispy bacon, and offered sweet blueberry cakes. The spent wood has become lye, and then soap to wash our dishes. The ash is added the chickens’ dust baths, used to fight parasites. I’ve made drawing charcoal from wild grapevine in its embers. It bakes potatoes, toasts marshmallows, and warms stew. Sopping wet clothes hang lazily around it, and with no effort on their part, are soon bone dry. Snow set out in buckets has melted down to emergency water. Because when the power goes out, the fire still works.

🤔: I don’t think woodstoves are necessarily The Answer To Energy Needs For All. Firewood is renewable, but complicated. But in the woodstove, the fire’s energy is visible and precious. It pushes me to use less, and think about it more. And that’s just not something I get from staring deeply into my thermostat.

Wherever you are folks, I hope you’re snug and warm.✨


D-I-Why Not homeMADE thinking big

Failures: Past, Present, and Future?

Failures: Past, present, and future? I fail all the time. Up, down, sideways. Also, I don’t believe in failure.

That is click-baity though because of course I do. I’m a present day human. I’ve been trained my whole life to believe I fail at every turn. As a female, I fail just waking up as a shape. That is, of course, garbage, but here we are.

⚽🐍: Okay, so here we are. A world of moving goalposts, and impossible ideas of “perfect”. But next comes the choice. The choice to suck the fear of failure right out of it, like a toxic snake bite, and spit it away.*

(*My analogies are getting grosser, and also I think you are definitely not supposed to do this. “Cutting and sucking the wound only serves to increase the risk of infection.” Thank you for coming to my snake bite PSA.)

🥔📺: I believe I failed only when I don’t try again. If something didn’t “turn out” immediately, and I sat down to wallow in TV and potato chips. Now everyone needs recoup time when the seed doesn’t grow, the sides aren’t square, or the code is borked. Potato chips are tasty, and sometimes there’s an inspiring tutorial on YouTube. But fall down 7 times, get up 8.

A bruised ego can heal, and come back tougher. Letting your ego get bruised can be like training for a fight — kicking a coconut tree to toughen up your shin, a la Van Damme.**

(**OKAY THIS IS EVEN WORSE THAN THE SNAKE BITE THING. Don’t kick coconut trees kids.)

🍐: Yesterday I tried making pear jam. It didn’t set cuz there wasn’t enough sugar. Fail… But now delicious goop for my oatmeal.

👩‍💻: I coded a layout that didn’t resize correctly on every device. Fail? No, just needed some tweaks. Now I know more.

🎁: I’m trying a new way of long-term potato and pear storage. Will it work? Shrug! Today might be the first day of a long slow fail. I hope not. But I won’t regret the fail if it comes. I’ll regret not trying.

Maybe I’ll end up with a box of sprouty spuds, and a mushy mess of pears. But maybe, maybe I’ll be biting into a luscious pear in the dead of winter, savouring the taste of trying.

Here’s to failing and trying again, to correct handling of snake bites and respect for coconut trees.

Have a great week folks.❤️


D-I-Why Not homeMADE thinking big

Bending Time

I’ve had to wait years to become a patient person…

🚍⏳: And being a maker can require a lot of patience. Parts take time to arrive, solutions don’t always work as expected, repairs take a few tries, experiments don’t succeed on the first go. It can be a long ride on the strugglebus before you get to that final destination, Euphoria Station.

🧐⏰: My secret to being a very patient person is that I cheat. I can wait years if I have to, but I stuff those years full of many things, with many different timelines. So as one project is rolling off the finish line, I’m usually popping three new ones in the queue.

🔨🍇: Nature goes at her own pace, and so do third-party parts suppliers. So while I’m waiting for a part to arrive, I start a cordial infusing. I might only find one oak gall that morning, but that evening I can add a few more stitches to a repair. Strip the bark for a basket handle, install a faucet, save a seed, start learning how to fix a lamp. Not every day can include a completed project, but most days advance one — or five. It’s all in my new imaginary book: The Impatient Person’s Guide to Making Slow Things Go Fast.

(Though I’m capable of waiting a long time if necessary, it has to be for *good reason*. I once took a personality test whose conclusion included the phrase “Don’t waste Kate’s time”. I’ve never felt so seen by an inanimate algorithm…)

🎨🌳: This is an upcycled picture frame in progress. I don’t have any frames for the wild ink art I make, in part because I’m determined to make them. So I’ve held on to a big piece of broken glass for years — waiting for me to make the time to buy a glass cutter and learn how to use it. And find the right offcuts of wood and rip them with the table saw. Now I’m waiting on the little tabs to hold everything in place. It’s been a long wait, but Euphoria Station is only a few stops away now. I can see it.

🙃⌛: I’ve backed into being a patient person by way of being a determined one. So if you’re a determined but impatient person like me, there’s hope for both of us. We can’t actually cheat time, but we can change how it passes.


gardening technology thinking big

In Seeds As In Software

Some of Maker’s Dozen’s work is in technology. Open source software development. And in open source, you share your source code.

It’s like sharing your recipe. Here, we made you this cake, and here’s how we did it.

It acknowledges the work of the people who came before us, and contributes our work back to the commons, so others can build on it too.

In the early days of computers, this was pretty normal. Most programmers were pretty open about sharing their work with others — so everyone could get the most value from these newfangled machines. But the cancer of proprietary everything has spread so far, that many people don’t even realize the locked in, closed source ideas of technology weren’t always considered normal. Or that open source never went away, and is in fact thriving. (If you are looking at this on an Android phone, you are using open source technology.) That there is a choice. Another way of doing things.

I think about this while I’m in the garden, planting our plants. It’s the ol’ “pull on one thing and find they’re all connected” deal.

Many of our vegetables this year are grown from seeds I saved out of last year’s garden. I love to save and share seeds, to be part of that essential cycle of self-sustenance. But we are miles and miles away from total self-sufficiency, and it’s not really our goal. We can’t grow and save the seeds for everything we plant and eat, even if we wanted to. We don’t have the right conditions here, don’t have the room to isolate plants properly etc etc.

We need others to carry the seeds too. To share back with us. So that there is diversity and abundance and resilience and growth. Plant it, grow it, share it with others. Be a good ancestor.

“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 (Seed Saver’s Network Australia)

Happy Friday folks! Have a great weekend. 🐁🖱️