Stay Strong, Eat Real Honey

Avoid adulterated honey; buy local!

Calming And Decluttering

Like so many people, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and battered by the news lately. If breaking news is breaking your spirit, take a break and focus on something positive. While reading through articles and interviews for Martin Luther King Day, I was reminded of something Dr. King once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” Even in our various states of shutdown/lockdown, there are dozens if not hundreds of actions we can take from home to push for positive change and social justice. If you can’t think of any offhand, I sympathize warmly; if I didn’t have a couple of helpful tools to keep me focussed, I wouldn’t be able to think at all. Some of my favorite tools offer prompts and reminders that make it, if not easy, at least a lot simpler to keep contributing with thoughts, words and deeds. Here are a few:

Americans Of Conscience
Jen Hofmann’s website says: “If you believe that diversity is our greatest strength, that respect, truth, and compassion matter, and that we are called to love our neighbor, you are an American of conscience.” Visit here to learn more and sign up for notifications:


5 Calls
This site helps us target issues we care most about and offer constructive comments to those who can act for us.

Calming Meditation Practices

While walking this morning I met a neighbor who’d just had a heart attack scare; thankfully, it turned out to be acid reflux but she and I agreed that our anxiety is at an all time high, for ourselves, for family and community, and for our country. She said she was looking for some new guided meditations to try, hoping they would help her find her balance. My own favorite meditation guides include wildlife sounds and temple bells as well as the sound of waves on sandy beaches. There are zillions of wave video loops to watch and listen to but they vary greatly in intensity and types. I had to search through dozens to find the one I now use a great deal. (See below for links.)

Support Local Bees & Beekeepers

Seeking a little sweetness? I sure am, but was horrified by an article detailing the way adulterated Chinese honey is crashing the market and putting small scale beekeepers out of business around the world. Clearly, we can help by not buying any honey that isn’t local and/or Fair Trade, starting with local farmer’s market vendors. We can ask local stores to only carry unadulterated honey from trusted sources. As gardeners, we can go a step farther and devote as much space as possible to plants that nurture and support bees and other pollinators, many of which are in dire decline. Native wildflowersare a great place to start, from Nemophila and Clarkia to Eschscholzia and Limnanthes and many more.

We can also plant all sorts of season extenders, since research shows that when native pollinator plants are supplemented with long bloomers of many kinds, a wider range of pollinators will flourish. In one four year study, beds with the most flowers at any given time got the most pollinator visits. Beds with native and near-native (related species) mixes were the most popular with the greatest number and variety of pollinators overall. However, as the flowering season wore on, pollinator attention shifted to exotic plants that extended the floral displays. The final recommendation was to plant mixtures of native, near-native, and exotic plants with the aim of having bloom for as long as possible. What gardener can resist such a delicious challenge? We can even learn to identify at least some of the pollinators as well, a fascinating study in its own right. North America is home to over 4,000 kinds of bees, many of which admittedly look pretty similar. Others, however, are quite distinctive and it’s well worth spending some time with an insect guide to learn to recognize our tiny neighbors. Good resources include and the USDA/Forest Service online guide called Bee Basics.

A Sweet Soother

The more we learn about our companion pollinators, the more we want to nurture and support them. Happily, simply offering a broad palette of pesticide-free plants will take us a long way toward that goal. While European honeybees are social creatures that share a hive, most of our natives are solitary bees that nest in the ground, in fallen logs and old stumps, or even in clumps of wild grasses. Like organic farmers, we can establish untended ‘bug bank’ areas where beneficial insect nests won’t be disturbed. Another great reason to be less tidy!

In the meantime, here’s a lovely way to enjoy real local honey, especially if you have a seasonal scratchy throat.

Honey Lemon Ginger Soother

4 cups water
1/4 cup chopped organic ginger root
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 cup raw local honey

Bring water to boil in a saucepan, add ginger, grated lemon zest and honey and bring back to a simmer. Simmer, partly covered, for 15 minutes, then strain into a glass jar. Add lemon juice and stir well. Drink hot; refrigerate extra in a glass jar for up to 3 days, reheat before serving. Makes about 4 cups.

The story behind fake honey:

Zen Ocean Waves (no music)

Guided Meditation: Clear The Clutter



Posted in Annual Color, Butterfly Gardens, Care & Feeding, Garden Prep, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Nutrition, pests and pesticides, Plant Diversity, Pollination Gardens, Pollinators, Recipes, Social Justice, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Making Compost From Crap

                           Light in the darkness shows us the way forward

Doing Our Part, High Or Humble

This morning, a crowd of supporters Zoom-watched as Tarra Simmons was sworn in to serve as our district representative in the Washington State Legislature. A woman with a remarkable life story most of us can scarcely imagine, Tarra is the first former felon to serve in this office, where she is committed to serving underserved people as they have never been served before. She can and will, because she brings an understanding of the many factors that drag people into the nightmare web of juvie, jail, and prison and keep them there. As a young child, Tarra was herself trafficked and saw family members and friends abused and killed in gang violence before her eyes. After serving her time for drug offenses, she completed law school with honors yet was only allowed to take the bar by a same-day, unanimous ruling of the State Supreme Court. A tireless advocate for legal equity and restorative justice, Tarra is already deeply engaged in legislative work she’s been advocating for for years. The co-founder of the Civil Survival Project, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people with counsel and legal services, Tarra is actively working for social and legal changes that would help prevent the need for “second chances”.

Tears of pride and wholehearted gratitude dripped down my face as this historic event took place. Those tears were refreshing after the heartbreaking events of last week, the culmination of years of deliberate incitement to violence and equally deliberate blind-eye-turning to that incitement on a national level. A heartsick nation watched in shock as an angry mob of domestic terrorists were encouraged, allowed, and even abetted to invade our nation’s Capitol Building. In the bitter aftermath, one man, Andy Kim, a State Representative from New Jersey and the son of immigrants, shed tears of sorrow as he saw the destruction and chaos left behind when the mob had been evicted. Alone in the huge room, he started to clean up the trash and broken furnishings strewn across the floor. Eventually a few policemen started to help him, but he stayed on, working until 3:00 am in order to leave the place he considers to be the heart of the nation better than he found it.

Hearts Of Stone

The entire nation and the world beyond is struggling to process last week’s historic events. Pretty much everyone I know, whatever their political leanings, is feeling stunned, bereft, and brokenhearted. The phrase “worried sick” keeps coming up; as a people, we are anxious and angry, horrified and scared. If it’s hard to stay openhearted in the wake of recent events, it’s more important than ever to try. Yesterday, a friend hung little bag on my doorknob that held a small heart stone and a note that read, ‘Something to put in your pocket to help you keep your heart open.’ When frustration and fury rise up, holding the heavy little heart helps me move past pain to center on what I DO want to experience and help bring into being; a collaborative culture based on kindness and compassion for all; an equitable society that values the earth and everything that lives upon it; a culture that is not trapped in greedy acquisition and power mongering nor in aversion, hatred and anger.

In short, I want to live in a culture that is not based on racism and capitalism. It’s past time for a national re-set, a reexamination of the very basis of our way of life. If that sounds daunting, it is and it isn’t. While few people get the chance to change to world in major ways, we can all make changes in small ways. I cherish the image of Tarra Simmons wholeheartedly swearing to uphold the constitution. I also treasure the memory of Andy Kim on his hands and knees, patiently bagging up the detritus of the mob attack. By doing our part, humble or high, we can affect our family and friends, our local community, and perhaps more. By holding our hearts open, despite ongoing terrorist attacks on democracy, we can remain strong enough to respond from our hearts with courage and compassion.

Let’s Talk About Everything

This morning, my local Senior Center hosted a Zoom conversation with a biracial young man who recently graduated from the local high school and with his mom, a white woman married to a black man from another country who is always called African-American, as though his country of origin is irrelevant. While in high school, the young man worked with student activist groups to expose the rampant racism hidden beneath the shiny social veneer of our lovely, progressive, wealthy community. His mom decided to do what she can as well, so after the murder of George Floyd, she posted on social media, asking for five people to join her in conversations about race. “In my family, race is something we talk about every single day,” she said, while for most of her friends, it simply never came up.

Her initial conversations became ongoing book study groups, increasing from one group to ten and including teachers and educators eager to learn how to introduce challenging topics like racism into their own schools and businesses. By creating safe, nonjudgmental places to hold exploratory conversations, this one woman influenced people and institutions across the country. Both mother and son stressed that the key to getting people to open their hearts for such conversations is creating those safe spaces and explaining the value of discomfort. Few of us willingly engage in uncomfortable activities or conversations, yet until we do, we will not find the way through the toxic mess our country and our culture are in right now. Just as compost needs air to work its alchemical magic, turning raw manure and garbage into sweet smelling, wholesome, soil nutrients, we must open ourselves up to heartfelt conversations about equity, racism, and social change in order to let the light in. In the light of truth, we can see our way to work on ourselves and with others for the betterment of all. Onward, right?

Posted in composting, Health & Wellbeing, Nutrition, Social Justice, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening | 6 Comments

New Year Noticing

Soup as soothing soul food

Shining Light On Seasonal Swings

Happy New Year, right? Or, perhaps, not so much? As the holidays recede, I’m feeling flat, stale, and vaguely sorrowful, restless but lacking energy. Many friends and neighbors are sharing such feelings as well, despite reporting peaceful, mellow holidays that were more enjoyable than expected. All weekend, I’ve been pondering on the past, remembering celebrating as a child and with my own kids; as a young adult alone in a foreign country; with and without family; making merry for aging parents. This pandemic year saw many of us alone or with a very small people-pod during the holiday season and this new experience opened the way for reflection on what we are actually celebrating. For many of us, those peaceful, mellow holidays provided welcome contrasts with the hectic, frantic busyness of past celebrations. Others were left feeling bereft of the cheerful connectedness that made holidays shine.

While post-holiday blues are nothing new, they were certainly exacerbated by the accumulated stresses and distresses of 2020. If ecological destruction and political evils weren’t enough to tip us over the edge, many of us found our security bubble-wrap getting thinner as safety bubbles popped one by one. Here, several friends and neighbors are in hospital, ill or broken and struggling to stay alive. Covert racism is increasingly revealed on my progressive, wealthy island. Waterfront homes sell like hotcakes for multiple millions, while homelessness increases exponentially. A friend in Southern California writes that she’s living in a tiny studio because her daughter and grandkids all have Covid-19, as does her aging mother in Georgia. Another lost her home to wildfire and is struggling to find a safe place to land. Another sold her home and moved two thousand miles to care for her dying brother. With such stories multiplying every day, no wonder we are feeling off balance, discouraged, depleted.

New Year’s Noticing

I’ve been interested to notice that very few people talked about spiritual solace. I’ve always found the annual journey from warmth and light into chilly darkness and back to be healing and hopeful, a potent reminder that, as RBG often said, ‘the pendulum always swings’. Already, so soon after the Solstice, the light is slowly returning, yet we Northerners won’t see 9 hours of daylight until just before the inauguration of our new president. As the word implies, that augers well for our country but with so much restorative work to do, all positive changes will need a lot of energy behind them. Where we find that energy depends less on social and governmental changes than on our own practices, how well we nurture our bruised and weary spirits.

One way NOT to nurture our spirit is by creating daunting lists of Resolutions. There’s a ton of research that demonstrates how ineffectual our annual resolutions tend to be. For starters, most resolutions are a bit stern, reminders of our accumulating failures to be smarter, richer, thinner, more successful at whatever we decide will make us happier. I no longer bother with resolutions as, in my experience, noticing what I’ve learned, gained, discovered, and created is far more rewarding and effective at promoting positive life changes. Instead, I devote time at the beginning of each year to noticing how far I’ve come instead of focussing on my (many) shortcomings.

The Pause That Refreshes

Recently, I’ve listened to quite a few other people who have a similar approach. My darling daughter-in-love spoke tenderly about her renewed appreciation for The Pause; that beneficent moment of thought before we speak. Part of her practice is to ‘cultivate The Pause’; something that definitely resonated. The past year brought me numerous opportunities to practice The Pause fruitfully, and looking back, I’m pleased with my personal Pause progress. The Pause can take various forms; it may keep us silent when we’re tempted to blurt out something better left unsaid, but it’s also a way to make room for reflection rather than reflexive speech or thoughts. My friend Mary Ann is taking a little time to appreciate her increasing ability to acknowledge her own individuality. My friend Peggi is enjoying her deepening relationship with her artwork, finding pleasure in the practice rather than results.

Both my emotional blues and recent restlessness owe a lot to the weather, as Western Washington has been awash in rain for weeks. Since we have been in a state of drought for years, the rain is especially welcome for nurturing native trees and smaller plants as well as the critters that depend on them. Even so, grey skies and chilly winds are not conducive to strolling around, and many of us are sorely missing our daily walks. It’s also been challenging to find enough time between cloudbursts to do some therapeutic gardening, my usual panacea. Much as I enjoy reading and knitting and crafting, I grow weary of the endless sitting. When I put on my raincoat and venture out, I rarely see another human, but happy birds are everywhere, calling and chirping, flitting busily about, swooping in and out of bushes and diving into gardens to find bugs and worms. Unkempt gardens are definitely the favorites, providing seeds as well as insects, so mine, though small, is very busy indeed.

Soup On The Stoop

This damp, chilly weather brings out the soup maker in all of us. I love eating soup and I love making soup but I seem incapable of making less than a huge batch. One wonderful silver lining in the 2020 storm has been a neighborhood tradition of soup surprises. Membership in my soup circle means that every few days, we’ll find a jar of soup on the stoop, and every few days, we return the jar filled with a different kind of soup. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy new recipes and I’m always struck by the way food we didn’t cook tastes so deliciously different.

One soup sister is vegetarian and thanks to my brother, she attests that my vegetarian soups have been kicked up a notable notch. My vegetarian soups often lacked depth, but Eben’s potent Parmesan broth adds all the rich, deep, umami flavor anyone could wish for. My version is simpler than his (see his blog below) but definitely delicious and well work making. Eben freezes his in a dedicated ice cube tray and adds a dollop to soups, sauces and so on, as this broth is so stout that a little goes a long way.

Savory Vegetarian Parmesan Broth

2 cups chopped Parmesan cheese rinds
8 cups water
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped

Combine in a soup pot, cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 hours, or until cheese rinds are almost entirely melted. Strain through a colander and freeze in small amounts for up to 3 months. Makes about 6 cups broth.

Here’s Eben’s more complex version:





Posted in Care & Feeding, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Nutrition, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

How To Nurture Hummingbirds

Young artist’s view of beautiful birds

Hummingbird Happiness

Like most people, we have had very quiet holidays, which turn out to suit us surprisingly well. On Friday morning my brother and I companionably texted back and forth, exchanging images and recipes and tips as we prepped and cooked holiday meals for slumbering companions. We reminisced about how our mom considered cooking to be beneath her interest, and we both felt grateful for the gift of appreciation from our dad’s interest in real food. My grandkids love to cook with me and we too have had fun enjoying meals together by live-video on the phone. For the holidays, they shared a recipe for making hummingbird elixir to go with their gift of a lovely vintage-style glass hummingbird feeder. I removed a flagging fuchsia basket with just a few forlorn flowers left, hung my handsome new feeder on the same hook and almost immediately the hummers were buzzing in for a quick snack.

When we humans hunker indoors, staying warm and cozy and eating ridiculous amounts of holiday specialties, the poor birds are working harder to keep themselves fed. They definitely appreciate gardens like mine, where plants are allowed to ripen seed and stalks are left to be cut back as spring arrives. Even a tiny garden like mine is alive with birds, mostly towhees and juncos, sparrows and chickadees, goldfinches and house finches. Bigger birds like to poke around the yard as well, from crows and ravens to Steller’s Jays and the occasional flicker. Apart from the jays, most are fairly drab, and certainly none outshine the gorgeous hummingbirds, which zip and zoom with a buzz of little wings.

Hardy Hummingbirds

By midsummer, hummingbirds are everywhere in the garden. They especially enjoy visiting hanging fuchsia baskets and they return over and over to sip the rich nectar from the long necked flowers. In summer, we get visits from several kinds, notably Rufous hummers, the males sporting bright red bandanas and coppery heads and backs. By winter, only the Anna’s hummingbirds are left in our cold, sometimes snowy region. The males are showboats, with iridescent, shocking pink-to-rosy throats and crowns, the ladies smaller and greeny-gold. Both have prodigious appetites and once they find your feeders, you’ll be refilling them at least a few times a week. I was fascinated to learn from an Audubon post that these charming little jewel birds were first seen over-wintering in Seattle in 1964, though they now nest and breed on Vancouver island and up into Southeastern Alaska. Though climate change may play a part in this migration, it also owes something to humans, as enough of us provide nectar feeders to keep a lot of hummers happy.

Hummingbirds also need protein, which is why they favor unkempt gardens, where insects, spiders and bugs are more often to be found than in sterile, over-manicured landscapes. Throughout the Northwest, I notice with sadness the constant habitat loss. Houses replace forests and roadside sweeps of native vegetation give way to tidied up verges replete with lawns and fruitless trees. It is sad to watch healthy stands of native fruiting trees and shrubs (which nourish native birds and other creatures) be replaced with non-natives and sterile lawns that don’t nourish anybody. As suburbs spread, tidiness destroys the last remnants of the wild. Birds and other creatures suffer hunger and higher death rates when they have no place to live. What can we do? Happily, quite a lot, even in tiny urban spaces.

Sharing Gardens With Birds

Though average lot size is shrinking everywhere, yet yards still host multiple activities and features. Fortunately, it’s easy to provide functional bird habitat along with privacy screening by creating layered perimeter plantings. What makes a garden a good place for birds? Food and water, shelter and nesting opportunities. To provide a steady supply of food, we need to plant both flowers and fruiting shrubs. Native salmonberries, huckleberries, and salal can be supplemented or supplanted with garden plants like raspberries, blueberries and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens). Many viburnums provide ample bird food, as do crab apples, barberries, and flowering cherries.

It’s also helpful to design more naturalistic, less formal gardens. Layered, unclipped hedges offer privacy and provide places for birds to build safe nests and hide from cats. Tightly sheared hedges don’t work, since dense foliage prevents bird penetration. Avoid shearing by choosing plants that mature to an appropriate size. This simple concept makes less work for you and is far less stressful for the plant. Twiggy dogwoods (Cornus sericea and C. sanguinea) are beautiful screening plants that also give birds plenty of protection. Snowberry and buffalo-berry offer multi-seasonal beauty and bird food. Shrubby California lilacs (Ceanothus) offer shelter for birds and food for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Small trees like apples, pears, wild cherries and vine maples and large unsheared shrubs like barberry, escallonia, and Oregon wax myrtle (Myrica californica) all offer good nesting opportunities.

Offer Water Even In Winter

Water bowls will bring in many kinds of birds, especially in winter, when natural streams and puddles may be frozen solid. Change water bowls daily and scrub them out well to avoid creating a health hazard for visiting birds. Always place water features and birdbaths where birds can see marauding cats clearly. Quietly moving water may be more attractive than wild splashing. One friend whose garden is always full of happy birds stuffs her decorative, multi-tiered fountains with moss and water-loving ferns. Instead of gushing, they drip and trickle in a manner that birds find utterly enticing.

As for filling those feeders, always use the classic Audubon-approved recipe. Never use alternative forms of sweeteners, none of which are good for birds (and some of which are outright harmful). Never add red dye, which can be harmful; the feeder’s bright color is attraction enough. Always wash the feeders between fillings, but in winter, dry them well before putting them back outside; one sad day, we found a tiny female Anna’s hanging by her feet from the feeder, frozen to the little perch. We brought the whole thing indoors, set if gently in the sink and spread a towel over the whole business. In a few hours, she thawed out enough to get free and flew straight out the door to the second feeder hanging outside. That’s why it’s wise to wipe the perches dry!

Hummingbird Elixir

4 cups warm water
1 cup cane sugar

Mix well to dissolve sugar and fill feeders immediately. Mix fresh elixir each time you fill your feeders. Onward!


Posted in Care & Feeding, Garden Design, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Nutrition, Plant Diversity, Pollination Gardens, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Winterizing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment