Post #3059: Introducing the tiny zendo

I was away from home for two weeks doing all the things (friends, jukai, work, training) in both nearby cities (Victoria then Vancouver). It was a wonderful break after being alone for much of the time this winter (not lonely though) – and I think in the two weeks of travel I saw pretty much all of my closest friends and was more than grateful for the many nice meals and visits (and all of that time spent with Brian as we travelled and stayed together in Van).   Though I returned home last Wednesday, it’s taken me a few days to come back to ground and reintegrate into my home life. Being “on the road” and at the city condo is fun and all – but for a homebody like me, it’s also a little unsettling. I am a person who creates a bit of a fortress wherever I live – from the days when I only rented a room in a house, up until now with our half acre and home – I tend to surround myself with the things of my life and then spend a lot of time in that space. It’s not the comfort of material things that I seek in doing that, but a sense of personal space and the arrangement of it that’s most important.

One of the things that happened while we were away, was some work on the outdoors of our property – including work on a little outbuilding that was here when we moved in. This 9×9 “shed” was dank and full of detritus when we moved into the house – it smelled so foul (from some rotting carpet in the loft) that the dog wouldn’t even go into it. But even so, we quickly realized that it was way too overbuilt to be a simple shed – with power (four outlets, two overhead lights), insulation, two windows, and a poured concrete foundation – it had all the makings of a usable studio building or guest cabin. Last summer Brian and I cleaned it out and he threw a coat of white paint over everything to freshen it up in time for friends to stay in it during our summer party – but otherwise it needed some finishing work.

Because we already have studio space (and lots of it for both of us), we decided that this would be our tiny zendo, or meditation hall – and also double as guest space when needed. While away in March, we hired someone to come in and put up some shiplap to finish the walls and the loft, and on our return this past weekend we whitewashed those walls and bought flooring and a new light fixture. Yesterday, Brian installed the fixture and finished putting in the flooring and I nailed in the finishing strips along the edges (minus one, I ran out of material) – and voila! It’s a tiny zendo!

There are a last few additions still to come, including a shelf, and a wall heater, and some loft finishing including a piece of carpet and a ladder that hooks on for stability. Plus, I plan to landscape the outside a bit more and bang together a rack for shoes by the front door – but I’ve got a sitting space that feels light and airy, and a pleasure to be in. It’s *such* a great space that even Brian might be tempted to meditate there with me – he’s feeling mighty happy with how it turned out also.

I haven’t had a chance to sit in it yet, though I plan to do so tonight after returning home from work. I have returned to a rock solid daily practice for the first time since moving, and am reminded of the unmatchable benefits of sitting every day. So if you come visit me, and would like a sit while you are over – I will always affirm that desire – for sitting together strengthens all of our intentions. More cushions will soon be on order to accommodate guests.

Post #3012: Another ranch in the wilds.

On our last trip to the cabin, we took a drive out the Summerland way to spend the cool morning meandering and poking about. The drive from our cabin to Summerland is done on a secondary highway also used as logging road, and at a certain point not far from us, the pavement (and the powerlines) run out. For about 45 kilometres (and thousands of hectares around them) it’s off grid territory, where no building rules or municipal services apply.

Up until recently, there has been little for sale up through there. We know because we looked when we first bought our place three years ago. Though I am happy we purchased something on the grid (I feel a bit safer when I’m out there by myself) – it does seem like a lot of interesting property is suddenly available, including a 153 acre ghost ranch on the banks of the Empress Creek. It’s listed for far too much at $995,000 (they are billing it as a development opportunity which it might be, but not for a few decades) but it is a gorgeous piece of land. (Almost as nice as this one selling down the road, on the power grid, at $200k less for 100 more acres of land).

Anyhow – this piece isn’t about the price of land….  My point is that *every* time I see a big piece of land for sale – particularly one that has good water, and proper building sites – I want so desperately to move there and make a little home in the wilds.

I know this is a romantic impulse – but it doesn’t stop me from exploring it pretty much all the time, and Brian too! Though we are both long-time urban dwellers, we have a strong affinity for quiet and remote places, and love exploring the possibilities even though we know they will not come to pass.

Just a couple of months ago, a piece of off grid property as desirable and (more) remote as this ghost ranch came across my Facebook feed. As is our usual habit, I sent the link to Brian with a “Wow, look!” attached and didn’t think much more of it.  But….. it proved fodder for turning over while sitting in bed drinking coffee the next morning. This one was not an interior property – but a beautiful little eco-lodge on the edge of the sea, boat access only, with everything all set up for bringing in a small income – enough to support basic needs. Enough that it begged the question, would it be possible to do if we sold our East Vancouver home and had money to spare.

Truthfully, it was probably the first time in our off-grid-dreaming-lives that an opportunity was there to actually pull up stakes, leave our community, and disappear into the edges of the coast with enough money to live on for several years at least.

But (as anyone could predict), we balked.  We didn’t want to be so far away from our daughter, our parents, a night out on the town every once and awhile. We didn’t want to leave the security of jobs with pensions – or remove ourselves from our fields of expertise in which we would be forgotten in no time. We thought about how great things look in the first rosy sunrises of spring, and how hard it is at this latitude once the darkness of winter sets in. In the interior it’s boatloads of snow, on the coast – driving wind and rain. It’s one thing to be off grid in good weather, but B. and I are a little too soft for the hard turns that weather can drive.

I am always the one to say no to these fantasies first, and this time was no exception. I said, “let’s just be realistic and acknowledge that we aren’t going to do this thing,” to which Brian looked utterly crestfallen – his disappointment greater than I had ever seen before. Agh! I was being such a meanie and crushing the dream again!

So instead of letting the conversation go, I turned it in a different direction and started asking questions. Was he really ready to move from the city? What would our objectives be for a new place? Could we keep our jobs and make flexible arrangements happen? What other things would we need to do to make it work?

And through that 2-hour conversation we became unstuck together. We realized that it was not either/or – the city or the middle of nowhere – but that we had a lot of privilege available to us to start making different decisions about our lives now. Possibilities that were not even available to us a year ago were suddenly right out front. What had been a defeating conversation became one of “what if”, as if we were suddenly free to explore real options. Options that included our community and our family.

*This* more than anything else I’ve said – is the why of the move to Gabriola. It’s the dream-stopper if you will. The place that is not the overly-romanticized other world, but is also not the hard grit of sun on concrete and noise.

Which doesn’t mean that the dream will ever die – because at every ghost ranch and acreage for sale I come to on the dusty back roads of this province – I get out and take a look. I always do, and I always will. I’ll fantasize about where the house would go, and the mico-hydro in operation right on that creek bank over there. I’ll dig root cellars and plot a kitchen garden. I’ll put a shotgun by the front door just in case the bears come up in the cool light of morning and thump on the door.

And then I’ll leave that place and tell myself that when the collapse comes, that’s where I’m returning to. As a way of letting myself believe that one day I’ll find my way to a piece of land as remote as that. But in the meantime I know that even though this dream isn’t fully realized, it’s one that has inspired the place of change in me over and over again.


Post #3003: A few notes on returning

Yesterday we met with the packing company for a quote, today it’s the moving company. We’ve got time, it’s true, but I prefer to get the arranging done up front so I can focus on the work of sorting and organizing.

I have the distinct feeling that we are slipping through a narrow window, one that will close as quickly as it opened – but that’s probably not the case at all. Just the sensation of impending change is upon me and I can’t unlatch the shutters to leave quickly enough.

In shifting my attention island-ward I realize how many resources – people and places – are there for us. Family all over the place, an old family friend who owns a mid-island bike shop, union compatriots, co-workers with whom I have long and strong relationships, and dear friends who will now be only a couple of hours away. Even though we are not quite going to the place of my childhood, I have the strong sense of returning – in that I am orienting towards the island of my birth, even if not making home directly on it.  Though – in some ways, Gabriola Island is very much like the Saanich I grew up in – rural, agrarian, and close to the sea at all turns.

In this I’m not romanticizing so much as remembering – with our move being in June I think of the driest summers of sharp brown grasses, and the swimmable ocean at Cadboro Bay where we had our class picnic every year before school let out – and I am glad for the time of year we are making this transition (farmers markets, summer swimming, bicycle rides to the marina for late afternoon beers!). While winters won’t be quite so pretty, I’m plotting my new studio as a place to hibernate (amongst creative material and small inspirations).

And as I start to unwind my life in Vancouver, I realize that I was half-turned away from it already. Probably years ago when I told myself that eventually I would leave, as soon as work wasn’t keeping me here anymore. Some small part of me must have known it would be this year, when I choose my key words for 2016 (back in December) – proclaiming “move, mobilize, and motivate” as my theme.

So curious.


Post #3002: Now we’re rolling….

So. It’s done. Or very close to being so:

This is our new house on Gabriola Island (if all goes well with the inspections that is). Our offer was accepted yesterday and we are scheduled to remove subjects by the end of the month. (!!!)


The Urban Crow Bungalow has now been sold to a lovely family who will take possession in June.

I have many things to sort out, not the least of which is where I will be working come move-in time. I could stay working in the city part-time/part-time from home – but my preference is to work from Nanaimo full time and I’m crossing my fingers that this will be possible. (It’s very possible since I do all my work online, but there has to be the will to allow it and that’s not always present around here).

The photo above was taken two-minutes walk from the house, as it’s very close to the beach. It doesn’t have a view, but the beach is endlessly available – plus there is a two floor studio for textiles and music-making! And while a view would have been nice, this home was by far my favourite that we looked at in terms of how it feels and has been kept up. (Here is the full listing if you are so inclined to peruse it).

Our move is June 10th, though we’ll probably pack up our place on the 7th or 8th and store things for a couple of days to facilitate cleaning and organizing our house for handover. We have a very tight turn-around on things on that end – but I’m sure it can be managed (right?).

I can’t really believe that this happening so quickly – and at the same time, it can’t happen fast enough now that the decision has been made. We’re pretty excited about the whole thing (as you can imagine) and ready for the change!


Post #3001: Moving toward moving.

Subsequent to my post last week, we are really doing this thing – and I’m feeling excited about it, after a weekend of looking at houses, and driving around the little island of Gabriola.

Up until this point I have been a bit ambivalent about the move, I have to admit. While the practicalities of the plan spoke volumes to me (get out of debt, live in a quieter place, be closer to family) – the reality of moving, leaving people behind, and having to pack and clean up our life in Vancouver was leaving me a bit torn in two. But after looking around homes, walking on beaches, and really connecting with Brian over the last few days about hopes/dreams/goals – I have come to a place of equanimity with the idea of moving, and true excitement about a new house and community to explore.

It doesn’t hurt that I came into work and received some good news about a new project that I might be tasked to for the next few years – one that would allow me to work from anywhere which means I won’t face having to work out of the Vancouver office for a good long time to come. That piece is still very much up in the air – but it looks like it will land firmly in my favour because I am so specialized for the proposal being made (and in some way have inspired it through my work – more on that in future post if it comes to fruition). Short story is, things are lining up in a way that makes this feel more possible than it did even four days ago.

There are two houses which we have in our sights at the moment, neither of which I am linking to here at the moment. The properties are both comparable in terms of house quality – with one having an incredible view, and the other being steps to the beach – with a large price difference between them. (Views are apparently more expensive than I thought they would be, and waterfront is downright unattainable). What we decide to do will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which is how much we sell our house for – and that we will likely know tomorrow night.

But what all of it – the selling and buying of real estate brings to mind – is how much it is purely psychological drama and nothing else which drives the prices on such choices. Or in other words – we find ourselves asking, how many tens of thousands (or hundred of thousands) extra is a view, or waterfront, or a super-fancy bathroom worth? And that question is only answered emotionally, because the practical *need* of housing (a place to sleep and cook) is served by far less than what is on offer in either place.

As both seller and buyer, I am aware of the heightened emotion that real estate purchases bring on. I remember buying our house on William Street almost seven years ago to the day – and how desperately I felt that I needed that house, the terrible emotional welling that occurred when it appeared that someone might outbid us, and how convinced I became that there was no other possible way forward than to get that, exact house. Likewise, when I sold my home on the Sunshine Coast, I dug my heels in over $5000 in the closing price and felt all sorts of terrible things towards the people who were trying to push the price down to something that would create more ease for them. There is nothing like the power we vest in land ownership to remind one of how in thrall we can be to our emotional states.

I might be speaking for myself only, but I find the energy around real estate to be hyper-charged, and unlike anything else I am aware of (except perhaps sex). And I wonder about that. I have felt more pride at “owning” a piece of land than almost anything else I have done in my life even though I rationally (and spiritually) know that there is no such thing as ownership when it comes to land and its living beings. One could say that its a symbol of hard work, and that’s what causes the frisson of ownership, but to that I would call bullshit also because there has been no hard work (for me) involved in things like the real estate market in Vancouver doubling in value, nor in the fact that I can get a loan from the bank. And while it is true that I have gone to work diligently my whole adult life, I recognize too that being born into the middle class and subsequently being university educated – is also a fluke, not the sign that I am more deserving than other people.

And so it is, that owning property is charged because in our culture we have allowed it to be so – to be somehow defining of adulthood and success – even though it is more likely an accident of where one is born and who they are born to, than anything else.

Back in November I had a very strong feeling during meditation retreat – which I can only describe as an overwhelming desire for merger with the natural world. The image that came to me over and over was the feeling of diving into a summer lake and the momentary sensation of being taken in by that body, fully enveloped by it, and losing the sense of the separation between one body and another. This drive for merger spoke to me of the artificial nature of the separation that we experience. My desire for merger was/is really just a desire for awakening to the true nature of being which is non-separation or wholeness – and the felt-experience on retreat was a glimmer, an inkling of that being state.

And so these feelings around the ownership of property, of land and beings – I have started to wonder if they have such power, because they replace our desire for merger and deep belonging. That is, many peoples of the world have lived easily without the need to *own* land, and with a sense of being a part of the land and its many creatures (that is, a sense of oneness) – is the loss of this oneness then replaced by another strong set of symbols which reside in power through control over/ownership of? Or to be simpler about it, are we so disconnected from the world that we no longer to be a part of it except through possession?

I will say that although I am aware of the feelings, the emotionalism, being present in this round of selling and buying – I am not as taken by them (at the moment) as I have been in the past. But I’m not immune by a long shot! And so I am working at remembering day by day – this desire for merger, and the delusion of ownership – in an effort to better understand and diminish the unpleasant roller-coaster of pride and anger and hope and frustration that arise in the process.


Post #3000: Selling the Urban Crow (and leaving Vancouver)

I’ve been quiet here these last few weeks – partly because I took a screen break in early February, and then I was sick and travelling for work…. but for the last week or so it’s because I’ve had news that was too early to share and I felt dishonest just blathering on here as though everything was as normal. Because it’s not. And that’s because Brian and I have decided to move.

We’ve made the announcement via Facebook this morning, after quietly informing friends and family over the last few days via telephone calls and emails. I always think that news between intimates is best shared in person as much as possible – and so we’ve tried to bring those closest to us (and most impacted) up to speed before sharing it more broadly via social media.

So here it is on the blog: We are selling the Urban Crow Bungalow. It is going on the market next week and there will be an open house towards next weekend. While that is progressing, we will be looking at properties to buy on Gabriola Island, because that will be our new home base.

Gabriola Island people – think about it! (For those of you who don’t know, Gabriola is an island with a population of just over 4000 people, a 20-minute ferry ride to Nanaimo, BC – it’s beautiful and rural and ringed by swimming beaches including some with sand, and beautiful sandstone formations).

We will also be purchasing a condo in Vancouver so Brian can continue to work here three days a week. He will share that condo with our daughter Mica who is currently living in residence at SFU – thus providing housing for her and a place to land for us when we are required to work from town. I am trying to move my work position to Nanaimo at least for the time being (we have offices there) which would make for a very reasonable daily commute.

Also, we’ll be paying off our debt on the Link Lake cabin meaning that we will have the funds to finish it inside of two years rather than five. So basically we are trading in a house in East Vancouver for a house on Gabriola, an apartment in the city, and a cabin in the interior.

Why are we moving?

Some of our friends are surprised by this news and others are not because they know that Brian and I have long talked about moving to Vancouver Island where both sets of our parents live. On the other hand, we have run our home like a community center for the last seven years and so I’m sure that many people in our lives are shocked to hear that we would leave all of that behind. Our decision to move has many factors and though we haven’t been actively talking about it with friends and family – we have been mulling together over how to get out of the city for most of our relationship – even more so in the last year.

Probably the key reason we are moving now comes down to age, stage and lifestyle. Our co-parenting relationship with Mica’s mom has come to a close (somewhat) with Mica moving into University residence which means we have more freedom to live elsewhere. Our own parents are entering their elder years (all of them now in their seventies), and would love to have us closer. And in our middle age, we are looking for a quieter lifestyle while still being able to maintain our careers. All of these shifts have prodded us into thinking about the various permutations our life could take (including one version which had us selling everything and moving out onto a very remote property which would have had us leaving work behind forever), and after poking around in our relationship and on the Internet we’ve decided this makes a lot of sense for us.

It’s also a very good time to sell a house in Vancouver. We won’t make any bones about the fact that Vancouver real estate being what it is, allows us to make some different choices than we had available to us when we bought in 2008. This is not our primary motivator, but the fact of it makes this possible in a way it wouldn’t be otherwise.

And finally, Vancouver is changing and will continue to do so in ways that I’m not entirely enjoying. While I love the city, the mountains and the sea around it, the great food culture, and the quirky East Van that I’ve lived in for most of twenty years — I don’t love the transit service on the decline, the increasingly clogged roads, and the lack of affordability that keeps many people broke around us. We are not immune from any of that! My feelings about Vancouver are not overwhelmingly negative at this point – not at all – but I feel the city gently pushing me out with each passing year and we are ready to go now before that feelings gets more insistent.

Didn’t you do this before though? 

Well, yes. I have done something similar before – fourteen years ago I moved  to the Sunshine Coast where I lived for four years before returning to the city. Longtime friends and readers of this blog will remember that I moved on my own to Roberts Creek and then to Gibsons where I owned a duplex that I ended up renting out in order to return to the city. (I sold the duplex in order to make improvements to the Urban Crow just over five years ago now).

I’ve been thinking a lot about that move lately – both what precipitated it and what brought me back to the city afterwards – and while on the surface it may look like a similar choice, it really feels quite different. Without going into too much detail about how I was deeply depressed and traumatized when I moved to a community in which I knew no one and was further away from family and friends, I will say that I was in a very different head space back then. This move to Gabriola is not inspired by a need to *escape* so much as a moving into a different life place and putting in place the supports to do that.

The two things that propelled me back to the city (being single and my bid for greater union leadership roles) are no longer factors in my life (thankfully!) – so I’m confident that this move is going to stick even though it involves a ferry commute.

So what about that ferry commute? Why Gabriola Island?

My hope this time around is to co-locate close to Nanaimo rather than commuting into Vancouver every day (which is what I did from the Sunshine Coast). While we recognize that the ferry adds an extra commuting dimension, my overall time to the office will be half of what it was from the Sunshine Coast, and exactly what my door-to-door commute is on transit right now. For Brian, the commute happens twice a week and the extra money freed up from mortgages allows him to take advantage of the harbour plane during good weather, and to afford the downtown-to-downtown passenger ferry being proposed to start again in Nanaimo this year. Worst case is that Brian works from the ferry a couple of times per week – which is far preferable to a daily round trip commute of 3.5 hours (ask me how I know).

Gabriola Island appeals to us specifically because it is rural, and because it is possible to travel easily on the island without a car and with aid only of a bicycle when necessary.  As Brian doesn’t drive, something similar on the main Island would put us into a more remote community, with connections that utilize the highway. This is not preferable for either of us – and in fact I hope it will be possible to cycle commute from the Island to our office in Nanaimo during most times of the year – something that wouldn’t happen if we bought in a more rural part of the central island and were linked by highways to Nanaimo.

Also – beaches! And lots of them. And artists! Lots of those too.

Anything else?

We are looking for a decent-sized (but not monster) home with enough bedrooms for guests, with good hosting space for dinners and parties, and with room for both a music/jam space and a textile studio. While we may purchase something that doesn’t initially have that studio space, we know that there are enough prefab companies out there which specialize in just such buildings – and a two-car garage can be easily converted into something for that purpose also. Ideally we would like half an acre or more, for the privacy more than anything else. We can’t really afford waterfront or anything super-fancy – but with our Vancouver dollars we will certainly be purchasing something that is ready for move-in – not building or doing an extensive reno.

I’ll tell you more as our plans unfold. We’re prepping the house for sale this weekend and house hunting on Gabriola next while the open houses take place. I’ve got a storage locker rented for overflow, and plans to hire a packing service for this move already in my head. We expect that once we start, we’ll be packed and moved to Gabriola by mid-June at the latest, though it may take more time to get the condo in the city (our goal is to have that sorted by September move-in if not earlier).

And yes, I am somewhat stressed about this move because it’s a *big* change for us – but I’m also ready for this in a way I didn’t realize until I started to let the possibility in. My test for that is to ask myself – “how would I feel if we pulled the plug on this plan today?” If the answer was “relieved” I would know it wasn’t time. But each time I ask myself that question I honestly answer it with “no way! we are totally doing this!” Which means I’m committed. Which doesn’t preclude being a bit scared.

So hold my hand people because I am ready to leap!

Post #2072: Finished items and new projects – from knitting to radio.

That up there is a picture of me wearing the Beacon Shawl to work yesterday. That is my third finished object from the materials documented in the top left photo below (which I blogged about back here in September) :


For the record, the above items are a Woodland Stroll Cape, a Cappuccino Dress, and the Beacon Shawl. All three have now been worn – the first two on more than one occasion. Although we still have six more weeks of fall – this feels like the culmination of my autumn projects and that everything afterwards constitutes winter. This is probably true in that my current WIPs probably won’t be finished until winter officially starts in December!

Since the dress, my sewing has been at a bit of a standstill, though my knitting continues apace. On the needles currently are a Paulie Sweater (I’m halfway done the second sleeve!), a Christmas gift cowl, and the Cowichan-style vest that I blogged about a couple of posts ago. I’ve got a very busy travel schedule coming up and so I am not starting any new sewing projects – and really am not interested in anything that isn’t portable at this point.

In other project-y news, after some recent realizations about radio-worthiness, Brian and I are embarking on a new project together – the Live from the Urban Crow podcast. While we still have to figure out how to make our recording devices work (we own two, and a mixing board, plus computers – but have never made a serious study of audio) – we’ve got some big plans for a bi-weekly show featuring a lot of what this blog covers: making, recipes, how-tos, interviews, throwing great parties – and so on. The difference will be that you get to hear Brian and I in conversation about these topics, which might be hilarious (or not). So far we’ve got a bunch of segment ideas plotted, so stay tuned and when we learn how to use our equipment I’ll let you know.

It’s been awhile since we did a new project together (if you don’t count the fact that our whole life is a project together) – and while I have thought about doing a podcast before, I never thought of asking Brian if he would be interested in doing something like that with me. Turns out, he is very interested – and when we canvassed our friends for subject-matter yesterday, we realized that they are also excited by the idea. So I’m encouraged that this might actually happen, and soon.

We’re headed to the cabin tomorrow – and I’m really looking forward to seeing (and sharing) all the work that’s been done this fall.

Post #2065: The sewing room tour (finally finished)

After a flurry of posting about the sewing room reno in early September, I’ve been a bit quiet on the subject in anticipation of the two final pieces of furniture that were on their way to helping me finish the job. This past weekend, both were installed, and so I’m ready to show off the sewing room I’ve been working on since August.

In case you forgot, the sewing room was shared with the TV and guest quarters and used to look like this:


TV, Sewing Table, Storage

Besides the fact that my sewing stuff was crammed into a shared space, I had also collected a ton of fabric from thrift and seconds sales, none of which I was ever going to use (it was bought so randomly), which resulted in a stash overflow of epic proportions. A big part of the job at the outset was de-stashing the fabric, with a little yarn thrown into the mix. We also got rid of the gross/ancient futon couch, the table my sewing machine was on, and moved the TV to another room.

IMAG1584This really left me with only a large wooden shelf from the original room furnishings – an item my father and I made together about thirteen years ago – and that has always been wonderfully useful in my life.

This I organized with uniform boxes, five to a shelf, all labelled with their contents. Likewise, patterns got organized according to type in magazine files. Some other odds and sods ended up on these shelves as well, which is to be expected, not everything can be categorized! Having used this system now for the past month – it’s incredibly easy to both find things when I want to use them, and to put them away. Seems elementary I know, but being well-organized makes it so much easier to stay well organized.

Next up is the sewing table, which we put together on the weekend (it was on order at Sears for a month). I picked the Sauder table because it is designed for both sewing, and storing a sewing machine (right depth, right height), plus has some built-in storage, and folds into a cabinet. It may be that I never put my sewing machine underneath in the long run because I like to have it out and available. But if I ever do get a serger, it’s got a place to live.


Being able to keep my workspace tidy is really important (given the mess it was before all the time), so the extra cupboard on this is a bonus.

Of course, the one thing I haven’t had for years (since I lived in a 1/2 duplex all by myself on the Sunshine Coast) is a cutting table positioned at the right height. And so, I bought an Ikea Bekant table to do the job. It’s sturdy and a decent size – and I find myself using it as an all-purpose standing table for all sorts of things – sorting through patterns, hand sewing, choosing fabrics and threads under the super bright work light. It’s been really great having this set up. Underneath you can see baskets – one for unfinished projects, and one for scraps from works in progress. The UFOs in the one basket are very old, and some decisions will have to be made soon. The plastic drawers house some quilting projects in progress.


IMAG1578And then we come to two pieces of storage hardware the I purchased from the Algot line at Ikea. Algot is a series of mix and match pieces that make in-closet and hanging storage solutions – very easy to hang and put together. I wanted to be able to store all the fabric, yarn, and garments-in-progress neatly, and visibly (for easy access). My self-imposed rule now, is – no new fabric or yarn unless there is room in the bins for it.  I have made my storage space finite and obvious to help curb my hoarding tendencies. Right here you can see that there are several garments worth of fabric, and at least four sweaters worth plus a bunch of other yarn. That’ll keep me going for awhile. One of the first things I did after the sewing room was mostly set up, was make the Woodland Stroll Cape out of wool that’s been in my stash for three years – this is a trend I tend to continue as I look at my oldest fabrics first.

One of the other final pieces, picked up last week, is this most-desired chair – which my mother bought me as a graduation gift. You see, I don’t always like to sit at the sewing table or stand at the work table – when I am knitting intensively or stitching, or even ripping out stitches on a dress gone awry – I like to have a comfy place to sit. Beside that you can see the technology center which features the printer/scanner, my tote full of camera bits (which I apparently didn’t tidy for the photo), a bin for paper, and the notebooks I pull out  to write and sketch in.  On top, you can see a doll made by my mother – my favourite of the many she has created.


Ultimately, it’s the little details that thrill me when I discover their utility or aesthetic value: I installed a full-length mirror so I don’t have to run up to the bedroom to try on garments, I framed some dresses that my mom made when I was a little girl as memento artwork, I hung kitchen organizers to keep all the small bits close at hand, and got all the thread out of a shoebox and onto an organizer so it’s easy to pick from. I also installed new overhead and task lighting, and a new roller blind to help keep the light in when working at night.


Of course, this wasn’t my labour alone. My husband painted from top to bottom, helped me install the shelving, and put the sewing table together. He’s also just been super supportive of turning this into my space now that we have a little extra room in the house – and that is *huge* to me.


Post #2044: Yes, it’s an amazing canning cupboard but nope I’m not a prepper…

The picture above was taken the other night, after Brian and I packed the cupboards at the bottom with tomatoes and tomato sauce made and canned over the weekend. At one point, both the pressure canner and the boiling water canner were going at the same time – and we ended with about thirty more filled jars for our basement “pantry”. Last night he made BBQ sauces, and this week I’ll round out the canning with some apples, stewed plums, and pickled beets – thus completing the major cycle of canning that we do each year in preparation for the winter.

For the record, I also did my annual “clean-out” where I remove all jars that are 2 years are old (from 2013 at this juncture). This year that was twelve jars – which I consider exceptionally good since we can about 200 jars worth of food a year (possibly more, I don’t keep good track). I used to have a much worse record of actually using my canned foods which was related to making too much of things that I wouldn’t be inclined to use (I never needed 12 jars of zucchini relish, for example). Over the years we’ve learned to make what we will eat, and eat what we make – an integral part of ecological sensibility around food supply.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a photo like this out in the world – to Facebook for example – an awful lot of comments come back in the “well I know where to go when the apocalypse comes” variety – allusions to the fact that this looks like prepper behaviour and so forth. So to set the record straight! Though we have developed many skills (hunting, gardening, seed saving, canning, food storage, building small things, sewing, knitting, and so forth) – we are *not* doing it because we believe we will need to survive a nuclear winter or even a really bad drought.

In fact, despite what we were taught as children (my mother, in particular saw learning these skills as somewhat pointless because why bother in the age of mass manufacturing), some of us derive great satisfaction from making our own things, keeping a stocked larder, sustaining our own lives through the work of our hands, wearing clothing made in our own style, and continuing the learning cycle throughout the whole of our lives. At least, that’s my main motivation. I’m not really sure what else is a worthy use of my time either – I mean, I could be watching TV in the evenings or playing video games, but instead I choose to knit, sew, play music and so forth.

Additionally, we economize by purchasing food at its cheapest point in the cycle, and by preparing our own sauces, preserves and so forth – we eat gourmet-quality food all year long without paying ridiculous prices for so-called “bespoke” foods (which are all the rage these days).

I’ve been around prepper behaviour lots in my lifetime – had friends that stockpiled for Y2K (remember that?) and carved bunkers into their basements. For the most part those foods rotted in the ground or got bugs (one of my old roommates brought several bins of Y2K foods into our house and then left them there while they developed moths) – and the culture around prepping was fearful and secretive. That’s not my life, nor the life of my community now – which means that we get to do things just because of the joy of doing them.

The prepper label suggests that those of us who pay attention to what we eat, wear, and make are somehow driven by fear and anxiety – and ultimately slapping survivalist terms on the making of everyday life diminishes the value of what we do and the homes we create. The Urban Crow Bungalow is a place of great joy and love, where we frequently invite people to share at our table in the continuation of our community network. We are not stockpiling ammo and hoarding food – but growing outwards from our own labour in order to support our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s not survivalism that drives us, but love – and nothing more than that.



Post #2033: A feature every house should have

Months after starting this project, Brian and I finally got this done over the weekend. Behold the life-changing spice cupboard!


You can’t see the whole thing, but along the bottom are also some vinegar bottles.

What started as a poorly placed ironing board in the kitchen (by the back door, it was a cramped place to iron out anything larger than a small shirt) has now become one of the most useful organizing spots I’ve ever had in a living space. Not only are the spices visible and easy to grab, but the use of small canning jars means that I can always stick a tea/tablespoon in rather than trying to pour it out of a bag or small jar.

No more drawers stuffed full, no more unlabelled jars – this spice rack has got it all. And here’s the before and after just for comparison: