Keeping In Touch Without Touching

If you can’t dye Easter eggs, try sheep…natural dyes of course

A Flurry Of Flower Fairies

Today Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced that schools will remain closed until September. A lot of other institutions and businesses will remain closed as well, of course, and millions of people are wondering how long we can keep this level of isolation going. Watching New York’s struggles to find safe places to put thousands of their dead makes it pretty clear that we are going to figure this out together, because the alternative is just too horrifying. As I walk around my neighborhood, I’m seeing fewer people, all of whom avoid me as assiduously as I avoid them, unless we recognize each other, in which case we pause at increasingly large distances to exchange a few catch-up questions and answers before moving on. Most of the other walkers are wearing home made masks more or less like ours, in a pleasing array of colors and prints. The colorful masks seem like a symbol of our willingness to cooperate, to do what we can to try to flatten the damn curve. Maybe we are all the more willing since there are now over 100 cases in our county, and the first local person has died of covid-19.

For me, as for so many, the garden is more comforting than ever. Checking my seed trays, sowing more of this and that, tidying up the beds, making room for the seedlings that are popping up, all this is the most soothing activity in my day. However, as I puttered this morning, something even more delightful happened: Two cars pulled up in front of my little garden and two small families spilled out, carefully distanced from each other and from me. From each car came a kindergartener and parents, all garbed in homemade costumes. Fluttering wings, floral headbands, bright sashes, colorful clothes were set off by large hand painted signs explaining which kind of fairy I was seeing. A geranium fairy, an azalea, a camellia, a bluebell, a cherry blossom, all twirled and pranced and laughed and joked, then flew away to cheer up the next person on their list.

Meeting The Need

The two families had chosen 10 people to visit, including school teachers and friends like me. It was an enchanting little episode and it still makes me smile to think about it. It also made me vow to reach out more myself, to make more calls, even to do a drive-by or two myself. I have done a few, dropping off bread and cinnamon rolls to my grandkids, who waved sadly from the doorway. I’ve been baking for the family for years and home delivery seemed like a fun idea but I cried all the way home. I’m deeply grateful that they’re safe and well but it breaks my heart not to be able to hug them. And man truly does not live by bread alone; I made a loaf of sourdough for a dear friend who just entered Hospice care and learned that the real need was for toilet paper. At the store, I found single rolls available (limit four per customer) and dropped them off to even more heartfelt thanks.

In my neighborhood, two young women decided to start growing some of their own food. Neither one has a very sunny yard, but I helped them figure out where to put some big pots by using our phones to send pictures back and forth. I dug out some extra seed trays and gave them a turn with the shared seed packets that have been going the rounds. Most of us just have tiny gardens and many seed packets contain way more than any of us can use. There was a whole pack of sweet peas left over so I sowed them in small pots to pass around the neighborhood when they sprout. Several of us are sowing flats of different vegetables and will swap when they’re big enough to transplant. Community building with kale and turnips! At least we don’t have to plant the vegetables six feet apart…

Let’s Stay In Touch

For some folks, distanced visits or drive-bys aren’t possible, but we can find ways to connect even so. One neighbor’s dad is in quarantine at a local senior living facility, so he stands outside his dad’s window and talks to him on the phone. Another friend tapes cute pictures of grandkids and cats on her mom’s window and shows her family videos on a tablet held up to the window. One of my significantly impaired elderly friends is in lock-down in a nursing facility and doesn’t like to leave her phone on, which makes it extremely difficult to call her. Instead, we send cards with interesting images-she was a photographer and an artist and it’s fun to find pictures that might appeal to her.

This ongoing separation is making it very clear that friendship really does need to be actively cultivated, just like our weedy gardens. When we can’t keep up our weekly lunches or coffee dates or have tea and knit together, we have to get a bit more creative to stay in touch. Phone calls can feel a little stilted when there’s not much that’s new to talk about (especially when people are out of work), but we can always swap recipes for cooking with leftovers and random ingredients. We can also take this opportunity to go deeper than usual, being honest about the struggle to cope with an unimaginable situation. If we have a hard time writing cards, we can send poems instead of chit chat. Really, I don’t think it matters that much what we say, as long as the essential message is, I’m thinking about you, missing you, and wishing you well. Onward, right?

Posted in Health & Wellbeing, Natural Dyes, Planting & Transplanting, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening | 1 Comment

Overcoming Fear Of Food

Grow Greens For Peace Of Mind

“I never thought I’d be afraid of my groceries”, one friend recently posted. She’s definitely not alone; I’ve been dismayed to hear neighbors talk (or mostly text) about how they’re dealing with their own groceries these days. Washing, scrubbing, wiping down packaging, bathing produce in bleach water…. Such measures may be wise but can be taken too far. Another friend recently said sadly that her cabbage salad tasted a bit medicinal after being soaked in soapy water, then a dilute bleach solution. Whoa there! I’ve seen the same videos you have, of doctors demonstrating their clean room technique on fruits and vegetables. But I’ve also seen this interview (see below) with Dr. Fauci and Trevor Noah and I’m definitely putting more trust in the words of one of the the world’s leading (and up to the minute informed) experts on infectious diseases
than in random media posts, however well intentioned.

Posted March 26: Dr Fauci answers important questions in about 15 minutes. Wow!

Do Not Be Afraid

Fear mongering is always popular on social media, because our human brains are hard wired to follow up on perceived threats. It’s certainly good to stay informed, but it’s also vitally important that we not allow our fearful lower selves to get sucked into obsessive information seeking (ask me how I know). There’s some excellent information and advice online, but there’s also a lot of absurd and even dangerous crap going around, some of which purports to be from leading universities or experts but are actually junk.

When I realize that I’ve lost way too much time to the internet, I’m making a point of going outside and breathing. Whether I’ve got the juice for a brisk walk or can only manage a leisurely stroll around the block, I always feel less flustered and more centered after some fresh air and exercise, however mild.

Productivity Is Not Important

One of the hardest parts of our prolonged home stay is feeling that I’m not being productive. Thinking of millions of people working so hard to keep us fed and safe and alive makes me feel like a total “useless mouth” (though I’m not signing up to die for the economy, thanks all the same). Quite a few people have shared similar feelings, and some confess to feeling steeped in shame for not using the time to write a novel or at least clean the bathroom. Personally, I’ve been feeling zoned out, stunned into immobility. For weeks, I wondered if I were simply burned out into apathy until something would break through and I’d find myself weeping with all my heart. How can we bear the weight of the world’s suffering? How can we bear the depth of human depravity not to mention stupidity? Well, we can’t. And that’s just fine, for now.  I’ve been reading this comforting, tender and tough minded little essay-ette from YES Magazine over and over for the past few days:

An Anarchist Quaker’s Prayer to Soothe Anxiety

Grow Grow Grow Your Own

In the meantime, just stop looking at all those videos about food handling. Making us afraid of food is unconscionable, especially in such stressful times, when food is considered one of the greatest comforts for most people. Relax! It still can be and should be, since according to the latest information from the Centers For Disease Control, “There is currently no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.” See below for more information on access to food, fresh food handling, and food safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

For now, if you find yourself slipping into food fear (or any other kind, really), put down your device, go outside and plant some greens. Really. You’ll feel better almost immediately and you’ll certainly eat better with lots of fresh greens on hand that don’t need any more decontamination than a swish in cool water and a quick spin dry. Fortunately, nurseries that grow and sell edible plants have been recognized as essential (well duh) so plants and starts are still available. Some nurseries are offering free local delivery, others are letting people call in and pay for orders, then drive through the parking lot for pick up. Take advantage of local options for everyone’s sake (we may save an industry as well as our sanity).

Sunshine And Lettuce

This morning, I’m taking comfort in transplanting young lettuces and kale, and in gleaning the first tiny radishes and baby carrots while thinning crowded pots. We’ve been eating kale daily all winter, and after I pinched back the side shoots (awesome in salads and stir fries) a few weeks ago, our matronly plants are producing new growth already. There have been a few pleasant hours amid the drizzle lately so I dragged a couple of metal chairs into the sunny gravel pad where in former times visitors used to park. Sigh. Anyway, now I can take a break from weeding and chat comfortably with a passing neighbor, who can safely join me (ten feet away) for a few minutes of shared peace. May peace be with you all!

More info:


Posted in Care & Feeding, Early Crops, Health & Wellbeing, Planting & Transplanting, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bathing In Light

Classic Tree Frog Meditation

So Grateful For Spring

It’s spring. Maybe that sounds vapid. However, after weeks of self isolation and cold weather, the sights and sounds of returning spring are as refreshing as a vacation. Chickadees changing over to their springtime Phoebe call. Robins gathering nesting material. Adorable little junkos flitting from twig to twig. Seeds sprouting, buds swelling, blossoms opening; it’s all more intoxicating than ever. Because it turns out that even for introverts, a staycation can get tedious, especially in a small house. I’m not complaining, mind you; my daughter and I are endlessly grateful for this comfortable little home in a charming, supportive neighborhood. Last night she even said, “This is a wonderful moment,” as the dusk drew in, both of us reading good bits out loud now and then, both cats purring contentedly (for once, no hissing despite proximity!). Since she’s been sleeping all day more often than not (a common sign of persistent depression for her) this pleasant moment felt like a breath of spring.

I’m deeply, profoundly grateful for such moments, because a lot of the time I’m quietly, secretly terrified. Like everyone else, I’m concerned about the millions of people who have contracted the virus and are ill, and those who have it but have few or no symptoms. Naturally I’m worried sick for people in nursing homes and hospitals, for healthcare workers, grocery store and pharmacy staff, those working in food service so we can all eat. I’m so sad for the homeless people and those in jail and various kinds of incarceration who have no way to protect themselves. And of course I’m hoping that I and my family and my friends and neighbors won’t get the virus. At the same time, I’m trying to stay positive, not to ignore bad news but aiming not to make anyone feel worse than they already do.

Peace Like A Wave

I hadn’t realized how deeply I was letting the continuous stream of frightening news get to me until I discovered that I had “lost” a day; suddenly it was Saturday, not Friday. Without the usual framework of obligations and tasks to hang them on, the days slip by uncounted. I suppose if I were caught up in deep meditation each day, spreading peace around my world, that would be an elevated way to live. Sadly, I’ve just been too shaken to remember not to over-focus on the horrible news. Fortunately a friend sent me a peaceful meditation video, one I used to listen to every day during a very dark time, but had forgotten. Once again, it helped me break the bleak fascination with the current darkness.

Having the video running nearby as I knit helps me focus on the intentions I prefer when knitting for others; stitch by stitch, I think or even say them out loud. Peace, comfort, ease, wellbeing, compassion, loving kindness, acceptance, clarity, release, reconciliation, renewal, awareness, openness, happiness, friendship, gratitude…. After a while, the words carry me out of the depths into a lighter, brighter state of being where I can think more calmly and breathe more deeply. Ahhh. Feels a LOT better. You may not have a similar response but it turns out there are zillions of meditation videos, with bird song and jungle noises, with sounds of mountain streams and little creeks, with wind or rain, or just the gentle swish of waves. If you too are finding yourself stuck in the dark, just calling up the meditation I’m using will also bring up a wide array of different options to try.

Meditation; Koshi chimes and ocean waves

Bathing In The Light

Yesterday I went for my usual careful ramble around the neighborhood, seeing almost no one until I came upon a couple of older women who were perched on large cement blocks at the edge of our local farmer’s market space. Despite the watery sunshine, nobody else was in sight. The women were sitting a careful 10 feet apart and talking about how they’ve been spending their days in isolation, reading, writing, crafting, cooking. I stood another 10 feet away and we shared experiences and stories and ideas for a stimulating half hour before they stiffly got off the cold slabs to return to their homes. I kept walking for a while, thinking about how restorative positive human interactions can be and hoping I never take them for granted again.

When I got home, my garden was bathed in sunlight, a situation that doesn’t last all that long, since there are tall buildings and taller trees on every side. This little lot had not been tended much for a number of years, so there’s still plenty of weeding to do. Bindweed, Bishop’s weed, buttercup, archangel, running grasses and thistles, all frolic in the poor soil, so whenever it’s not too cold, I can spend a happy hour pulling and prying and digging up roots. When the light was lost and a bitter little wind arose, I went inside, feeling more refreshed in spirit than I have in weeks. Today as I returned to my weeding, I heard tree frogs singing for the first time, a beloved sound that brought tears to my eyes. A older neighbor stopped by to tell me about her recent travels to visit family in Germany. “It’s not scary if you stay with your experiences,” she reminded me. “Don’t focus on what you hear, stay with what you can see for yourself.” Watery sunshine spilled over us as we talked. Filtered through flitting clouds and wavering in warmth, it poured down generously, bathing us in light.


Posted in Health & Wellbeing, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Weed Control | 9 Comments

Going Viral

Washing Hands As Meditation

Shutting Down And Opening Up

Here in Washington State, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus in the United States, the world is changing fast. In eight weeks, we’ve gone from mild curiosity to astonishment; every day I hear people saying, “This is really happening!”, like they weren’t sure until now. Even here, so close to Seattle, not much had changed in our daily lives. Until now. On January 20, the first US case of the virus was confirmed near Seattle. Today, there are 4,354 cases in the US, 837 of them in Washington (New York has passed us, with 950 today). The thing is, they aren’t cases, really. They’re people. Eighty of them are dead and more are desperately ill. And instead of offering direct help, the current regime is telling State Governors to find their own masks and respiratory equipment.

Indeed, the only reason that those early cases were identified at all is because of civil disobedience; a local doctor and local labs went ahead and tested for the virus despite direct orders NOT to do so from the CDC and the national government. We have these brave people to thank for getting those early sufferers the medical care they needed, and for reducing the spread of the virus by calling it out publicly (again against government orders). Had tests been available sooner, the virus could have been contained faster and would not have spread so far so fast. We’re also grateful for the quick and continuing response of Governor Inslee, who has been monitoring the situation hourly and issuing important if unpopular civil restrictions.

Flatten That Curve

By the end of last week, schools were to be closed starting today for up to six weeks; now it’s possible they won’t reopen until September. Kids are home, with worried parents who are often trying to work from home. Kid-sitting grandparents like me are kept at a distance, because anyone over 60 is told to stay home and self-isolate. No play dates allowed either, of course, because limiting contact with others is our best hope of “flattening the curve”, a phrase on everyone’s lips all of a sudden. As of this week, libraries are closed here and in many communities, from Seattle to small towns. Hearing of the likelihood, there was a huge run on books and the library here was crazy busy as people checked out enough books to keep them reading for six weeks. Now the closure dates are indefinite. There’s no book drop, since there’s no staff, so everyone gets to keep the books they have without fines until the libraries open again. So far, we haven’t been told not to swap books, but since the virus can last on hard surfaces for an unknown amount of time, most folks are using their kindles instead.

Watching the virus scream through Italy, we’ve learned that self isolating is worth practicing, since it really does help to reduce the spread of this new virus. Nobody is immune because it IS new. We’re learning to wash our hands very, VERY thoroughly. We’re learning that our greatest goal should be to remain safe and help to flatten the curve—the spread of the virus—for our communities. We’re even learning new ways to connect; last week I attended my first online board meeting. Today, we canceled my community’s March board meeting and our big annual potluck. Not only are we told not to gather in groups of more than ten, but we can’t rent our usual meeting place anyway, because the local Senior Center is closed by recommendation of our local Prepared group and the City of Bainbridge Island. Instead of getting together, we call, send cards, email, or text.  Instead of hugs or handshakes, we bow with folded hands. Namaste.

Social Distancing

On Thursday we posted a picture of our Senior Center knitting group, all sitting at least three feet apart, the then-suggested safe social distance. Almost immediately someone commented that it seemed irresponsible to meet like that. Indeed, today, the suggested social distance is nine feet, the distance droplets can fly should someone cough or sneeze near you. Moving a bit farther apart now…. At the Senior Center, we’re putting as many classes as possible online, on Zoom or video, from exercise to writing workshops, but we are no longer permitted to hold in-person events until further notice. Local churches are live-streaming services, limiting physically present folks to fewer than ten, widely spaced. Anyone coughing or sneezing is politely requested to go home.

Small businesses are closing their doors and applying for emergency loans to carry them through. On the streets of our small town, most shops are shut, offering online service or none at all. Bars and restaurants are limited to take-out options only; no sit-down meals allowed. And today, we’re hearing that most will close in a day or two, as they can’t afford to remain open or can’t get staff or both. Seattle is like a ghost town, with nobody on the streets. Well, almost nobody; homeless people with no place to go are gathering under the Fremont Bridge, in sheltered doorways of closed businesses, anyplace hot air comes up from underground vents. Even on the island, our homeless neighbors are wondering where their next meal is coming from as social services close their doors. Our Food Bank is still open but the offerings are now in take-out form.

Rest And Refresh

Our enforced isolation has several definite bright sides. In China, in Iran, and in Italy, pollution is reducing visibly as cars are left parked and businesses are shutting down. Travel bans are making the world quieter as plane flights are canceled and local traffic dwindles. At home, people are cleaning house of course, scrubbing down every possible flat surface, but also cleaning closets, emptying boxes of miscellany, finishing abandoned projects. Many of us are making and mending, knitting and sewing, crafting and building. In Italy, nobody is allowed to walk around without a reason, so people with dogs are sharing them so neighbors can get out and stretch their legs a bit. Though some people remain plugged in around here, others are finding time to unplug, taking walks without earbuds to listen to birds without noisy traffic and roaring airplanes.

This morning I read an interview on social distancing with Sister Mary Catharine Perry, a cloistered Dominican nun who has lived in a convent for 29 years. She offered some practical tips for those who aren’t used to spending so much time along or being at home with their families 24/7 (!!). She reminds us that structure is important for human wellbeing, so after a few lazy days of staycation, figure out a schedule that works for you. Get up and get dressed at a suitable time, eat wholesome meals without snacking too much, and spend time outside (the nuns have a big garden and grow much of their own food). Sister Mary Catharine finds that quiet, simple life to be both fulfilling and refreshing and suggests that as we wind down from the frantic pace of our usual overly busy lives, we too may discover that peace and comfort are available to us as well. Today, the bitter North wind finally blew itself out. The sun thawed the ice in my garden buckets and warmed the air and the soil. Birds sang. Seeds sprouted. I weeded and pruned and felt at peace. Onward.

Here’s her story:




Posted in Climate Change, Health & Wellbeing, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments