Honey

My favourite honey ferment started as an attempt at making fennel candy. Simple: chop fennel into sticks and submerge in honey. Simple, but expensive unless you have much honey lying about or have generous beekeeper friends; or, like my dad, if you find buckets of honey by the side of the road and the owner says take them, they were for bees that have passed on.

I have been reading A Sting in the Tale, written by Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex. The book includes many anecdotes of Goulson’s studies of moths, bees, and other small creatures, since about the age of seven. A memorable anecdote is the horrifying idea of attempting to dry a soggy bee on a hot plate and the increasingly predictable outcome of sizzling it to death. Through Goulson’s tales of studying bees, both in and out of university labs, I am learning more about bees, a “subject” of a lawsuit for which I have been helping research.

The basis of the suit is that there are many corporate entities conspiring to flood the U.S. market with adulterated honey (e.g., honey with added syrups, like corn). The lower price of the adulterated honey undercuts U.S. beekeepers, the plaintiffs. And, in my view, such honey adulteration undercuts the work of the bees and viability of growing food, as more than a third of our food relies on bee pollination. In short, to care about humans must require a caring for the bees.

My cupboards are filling with honey. Often I buy from farmers at markets, so it is less likely that my honey is adulterated. But I’ve started collecting jars with contents more likely adulterated. My local JONS grocery around the corner sells “honey” for $1.99 with the claim “no high fructose GMO syrup”. Right. The website on the jar brings me to an corporate importer website without any indication of the honey’s origin. It smells like molasses, and not honey-that-smells-like-molasses … but then, I am primed to be suspicious.

My favourite honey right now is from a little cooperative beekeeping community up the coast—Marshall’s Farm. It smells a little like cinnamon filtered through flower petals. Amusingly, UC Davis made a honey tasting wheel, which is great fun in mental exercises of sussing out whether a honey is akin to sweaty locker, but it’s easier to me to pick my own adjectives than to try to fit my experience into a wheel.

Ferments that go well with this fermented sap? Indeed … my favourite ferment right now is fermented or pickled meyer lemons. A bay leaf in with the lemons and salt, or maybe star anise, and a few months later the lemons have become a wonderfully sour addition to sweet or savoury dishes. Peel, pith, and juices.

I have mourned over a few small honeybees on the roof of my building, dying because they are too far from a flower—a bee with a stomach full of honey is always about 45 minutes from starvation. But I have also found places in Los Angeles where there are still so many bees pollinating flowers that I can meditate on the beautiful noise that so many bees, flapping their wings more than 200 times per second, make together.

Law, salmon, limiting sovereignty

When we treat fish as food and merely a commodity for humans to set quotas on and distribute within a rights based distributive model, food sovereignty for many communities is limited; this is largely the story of salmon fishing in the Canadian food system. While many Indigenous communities have traditionally been intimately tied to salmon, these relationships have been increasingly limited because of the exploitative nature of commercial fishing and exploitative farming methods.[1]

Discourse that first began to attempt to limit Indigenous food sovereignty and relationships with salmon focused on “conservation”, which has been used by courts to justify limiting First Nations’ hunting of salmon.[2] There was some success to expand notions of sovereignties through institutional change in marine governance by altering governance trajectories and fostering trust between organizations and individual communities.[3] In British Columbia, “conservation-based” fisheries had some success because of partnerships between levels of the Canadian government and First Nations, commissions run by First Nations, and individual First Nations.[4] Commercial fishing of salmon that resulted in catch limits attempts to limit Indigenous fishing relationships through this “conservation” rationale.

One case that exemplifies the exploitative development model of approaching fisheries reached the Federal Court of Appeal in 2015: Ecology Action Centre v Canada (Minister of Environment).[5] In that case, Ecology Action Centre questioned the Minister of Environment’s (“Minister”) approval of salmon eggs to be genetically modified in Prince Edward Island, sent to the Panama for commercial grow out, and then back to North America for consumption. The case was an appeal (inter alia) of whether the Minister’s environmental assessment was adequate and a breach of procedural fairness for lack of posted notice. In a short 14 paragraph decision dismissing the appeal, the Court held that the Minister’s actions were reasonable, as potential toxicity could be avoided.

The Court affirmed the court of first instance’s decision that an investigation around potential toxicity and escape in the considered location (the Panama) was discharged. Nowhere was there mention of Indigenous peoples or Panamanian interests, both of which would have been affected. Instead, the narrative was within a rights based sovereignty framework that limited the interests of those affected by approval of the grow out. That the exploitative and rights based frameworks of salmon fishing caused need for alternative grow outs is an example of attempting to fix problems caused by a development framework—rooted in capitalism and colonialism—with more development.

Food sovereignty does not fit within a framework of development—“that ‘growth or progress should be able to continue indefinitely … is an idea that radically distinguishes Western culture from all others.’”[6] A different trajectory requires movement beyond the idea that the human right to development continues as priority, which necessitates disruption: “[t]o the extent that … law continues to promote a state-based model of development, … the empowerment of historically marginalized communities may not be forcefully affirmed.”[7]

Nathan Bellinger and Michael Fakhri suggest that law is important if the food sovereignty movement is to achieve its transformative purpose.[8] Maintaining a broad definition of food sovereignty can nurture “many different groups to participate”—this prevents one group defining food sovereignty for all, and “who gets to define food sovereignty becomes an important part of how food sovereignty is implemented.”[9]

Food sovereignty in relation to salmon that does not extend beyond states based and rights based approaches within the legal and regulatory Canadian frameworks will continue the pattern of exploitation. Global North notions of state based domination and sovereignty as rights oriented and distributive further promote commercialization and exploitation of salmon. Fakhri questions: “if [trade] helps you, how are you going to think about those that are harmed by you benefitting?”[10] And “[w]hich rules and institutions enable the current uneven patterns of vulnerability?”[11] This questioning is a relational inquiry that extends into the broader realm of relationality between people, nations, and land.


[1] See e.g. Douglas C Harris, Fish, Law, and Colonialism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); Kerri Garner & Ben Parfitt, “First Nations, Salmon Fisheries and the Rising Importance of Conservation” (April 2006), Report to the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council”, online: <www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/322561.pdf>.

[2] Garner & Parfitt, supra note 1 at 2.

[3] Henrik Österblom & Carl Folke, “Emergence of Global Adaptive Governance for Stewardship of Regional Marine Resources” (2013) 18:2 Ecology & Society 4.

[4] Garner & Parfitt, supra note 33 at 2.

[5] Ecology Action Centre, supra note 4.

[6] Usha Natarajan & Kishan Khody, “Locating Nature: Making and Unmaking International Law” (2014) 27:3 Leidon J Intl L 573 at 588 [footnotes omitted]. See also Peter Rosset, “Food Sovereignty and Alternative Paradigms to Confront Land Grabbing and the Food and the Food and Climate Crisis” (2011) 54:1 Society Intl Development 21 (who focusses on peasant agriculture).

[7] Natarajan & Khody, supra note 6 at 837.

[8] Nathan Bellinger & Michael Fakhri, “The Intersection Between Food Sovereignty and Law” (2013) 28:2 Natural Resources & Environment 45.

[9] Ibid at 48 [emphasis in original].

[10] Oregon Humanities, “Michael Fakhri on Trade” (26 July 2016), online: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=UopV80sD1CA>.

[11] Michael Fakhri, “Food as a Matter of Global Governance” (2015) 11:2 J Intl L & Intl Relations 68 at 73.

Space for community conversation in municipal food planning

Policy shifts in Canada have transferred more power to local governments regarding food policy,[1] and amendments to the Municipal Act[2] enacted on November 16, 2016 give municipalities the ability to pass bylaws regarding climate change. The 2014 Ontario Provincial Planning Policy also directs that municipalities make planning decisions that reduce climate change impact[3] and increase access to local and sustainable food.[4] To date, most municipalities have done little to engage those powers.[5]

Transformative frameworks can disrupt the common impasse of policy becoming ineffective at local levels. I view municipal law as uniquely situated as interconnected with local food systems, creating possibility for meaningful transformation.

Too often initiatives are top down and reproduce the “same systems of maldistribution that organizations are purportedly targeting. Inside those organizations, white elites determine the fates of the vulnerable and get paid to make decisions about their lives while people directly impacted are kept out of leadership.”[6] Municipal policy provides opportunities to disrupt the injustice of unequal access to space for growing and eating food, as municipalities are situated such that they can focus on local needs and ways of knowing. In the words of Professor Maxine Burkett, municipalities have a duty or obligation to “create or empower institutions” to meet those obligations.[7]

In this post I use Windsor, Ontario, as an example of food governance following the trajectory of increasing agriculture and development without focussing on local food systems.[8] I critique municipal planning practices and discuss potential spaces—in this post, community gardens—where community can inform municipal approaches to food policy to increase sustainability[9] of a municipality’s local food system.

In discussing municipalities as uniquely placed in relation to planning decisions, Burkett states:

[M]unicipalities … “represent the common good.” They are responsible for everything from land-use planning and development to infrastructure management to public health and emergency planning. Climate-induced weather extremes compromise each of those core responsibilities … Despite access to better information and knowledge of the diverse costs of failing to adapt to climate change … local governments fail to represent the common good by failing to plan appropriately or by dissenting from key substantive recommendations.[10]

Burkett argues that municipalities have largely shirked their duties of vigilance by ignoring these realities. However, many local food initiatives develop from grassroots organizations largely outside of government or corporate structures.[11] If municipalities are to represent the “common good”, consultation and local law and policy need to evolve from planning decisions made by those communities instead of for them. Below, using the above critiques of Professors Burkett and Dean Spade, I consider how changing where and how planning decisions are made can create institutions that disrupt the systems of maldistribution.

In thinking about how to link municipalities and community, I engaged information municipalities have, such as the mapping of the city, to envision a shift in how local food law and policy can be generated locally. Interactive food mapping is a tool increasingly being used by municipal governments[12] and food activists, including for urban foraging and food saving.[13] The map for this blog post was generated using GIS software.[14]

In my work with Windsor community gardens,[15] I came to recognize their benefits as shared living spaces. I met refugees who shared their bean harvest and bean knowledge with other gardeners; retirees who grew zucchinis to donate to the local women’s shelter; and people escaping abusive home situations by spending time in their garden plots that were towering with tomato plants.

I also saw the importance of community gardens at a mental health support clinic in London where people shared stories of being ostracized from the community—both in terms of social reactions to their different expressions and the very apparent isolation of the clinic, which was located in a semi industrialized area of London inaccessible to many. Individuals expressed their experiences of being further ostracized through charitable food services—being given endless supplies of dried pasta is not likely to make one feel nourished. This food bank practice is part of “celebrat[ing] disingenuous attempts at inclusion while refusing to expand the notion of appropriate support and healing [especially] for non-white people.”[16]

Spaces where community gatherings occur indicate how certain knowledge is valued, how community knowledge is generated and shared, and local law and policy should develop from that gathering. Instead of municipalities holding “consultation” in government owned institutions, local law and policy conversations should be in community spaces physically more integral to the issues those gatherings are about, and those spaces might generate a more transformative way of envisioning law and policy. Some of those spaces for food law and policy could be community gardens. Community gardening is also frequently cited as a way of addressing so called food deserts, which continue to be a problem in Sandwich Town and Ford City in Windsor, despite city mapping in 2014 that highlighted these issues.[17]

Community gardens can be spaces that recognize experiences of marginalized people, and they can be institutions that survive political turnover or change. I think those spaces should be the spaces where we think about what it means to grow, process, and share local food instead of top down spaces where not all communities are represented.

Ongoing “shared social connections” are crucial to the viability of scaling up food projects that aim to maintain ties to local food systems.[18] These interactions create lasting relationships that can define local food policy. It seems more appropriate for those conversations to be in spaces communities use for local food growing and sharing, instead of government institutions that are inaccessible to many communities.

While local governments “govern persons—individuals and groups—directly, … more often than not persons are governed indirectly through rules about physical form, about buildings, property, activities, temporality, and uses.”[19] Who are the people? Where do they use city space, and how do they use it? Continual questioning should guide the planning process.

This post was intended to present a simple idea—that for planning practices regarding food law and policy to be meaningful to the communities that they purport to relate with, the planning might be better engaged in food spaces used by those communities.


[1] Ann Hui, “Federal Budget 2019: Details Released on Long-Awaited National Food Policy”, Globe and Mail (20 March 2019), online: Globe and Mail <www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-federal-budget-2019-details-released-on-long-awaited-national-food/>; Government of Canada, “What We Heard: Consultations on a Food Policy for Canada” (2018), online (pdf): <www.canada.ca/content/dam/aafc-aac/documents/20181025-en.pdf>; House of Commons, “A Food Policy for Canada: Report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food”, 42nd Parl 1st Sess (Ottawa: Government of Canada, December 2017) (Pat Finnegan), online (pdf): <www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/AGRI/Reports/RP9324012/agrirp10/agrirp10-e.pdf>.

[2] SO 2001, c 25. See also City of Toronto Act, SO 2006, c 11, Sched A; Ontario Municipal Knowledge Network, “Best Practices in Local Food: A Guide for Municipalities” (2014), online (pdf): <www.amo.on.ca/AMO-PDFs/Reports/2013/2013BestPracticesinLocalFoodAGuideforMunicipalitie.aspx>; Natural Resources Canada, “Chapter 2: Climate Change Adaptation And Municipal Decision Making”, online: Government of Canada <www.nrcan.gc.ca/environment/resources/publications/impacts-adaptation/reports/municipalities/10083>.

[3] “2014 Provincial Policy Statement: Under the Planning Act” (Toronto: Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 2014), online (pdf): <www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=10463> at 4, 7, 15, 20, 30.

[4] Ibid at 20.

[5] I have noted up the relevant sections as well as searching online for discussion of those relevant sections; those searches have returned no promising results that suggest municipalities are using their powers to create bylaws that target issues of climate change or food policy.

[6] Dean Spade, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015) at 99.

[7] Ibid at 461.

[8] I chose Windsor because it is where I was residing when I wrote the paper; it is an interesting municipality to consider in this context because it is a border city and is also surrounded by much agricultural land.

[9] I consider the notion of “sustainability” to indicate a broader conception of a community’s right to define its food systems, which is part of food sovereignty. There are interconnections between the definitions that signify ties to land and responsibility toward others and the land. See e.g. Amanda Cobb, “Understanding Tribal Sovereignty: Definitions, Conceptualizations, and Interpretations” (2005) 46:3 American Studies 115; La Via Campesina, “Food Sovereignty” (15 January 2003), online: <viacampesina.org/en/food-sovereignty/> (La Via Campesina shaped the idea of food sovereignty to advance the voices and rights of peasant workers, defining it as a community right to define its own diet and therefore shape the food system); Heidi Kiiwatinepinesiik Stark, “Nenabozho’s Smart Berries: Thinking Tribal Sovereignty and Accountability” [2013]:2 Michigan State L Rev 339 (Stark questions the term’s usefulness and reflects on shifting away from societies that are rights based toward responsibility societies). If policy is to be conceived through more local definitions of sovereignty, there might be greater potential to reclaim food sovereignty rights in more localized areas.

[10] Maxine Burkett, “Duty and Breach in an Era of Uncertainty: Local Government Liability for Failure to Adapt to Climate Change” (2013) 20:3 Geo Mason L Rev 775 at 783 [footnotes omitted].

[11]  Robert Buchan, Denise S Cloutierb & Avi Friedman, “Transformative Incrementalism: Planning for Transformative Change in Local Food Systems” (2018) Progress in Planning at 3.

[12] Thank you to Rebecca Shearon for the generous and insightful help in mapping the food initiatives in Windsor. See e.g. Glennon Sweeney et al, “The State of Food Mapping: Academic Literature Since 2008 and Review of Online GIS-based Food Mapping Resources” (2015) 31:2 J Planning Literature 123.

[13] See e.g. “Mundraub Map”, online: <mundraub.org/map>; Lauren O’Neil, “Interactive Fruit Tree Map Highlights Free Food in Toronto”, BlogTO (August 2018), online: BlogTO <www.blogto.com/tech/2018/06/interactive-map-shows-all-fruit-trees-toronto/>; Laura Siciliano-Rosen, “Infographic: Regional Food Maps of Europe”, Eat Your World (14 September 2017), online: Eat Your World <eatyourworld.com/blog/infographic_regional_food_maps_of_europe>.

[14] Some of the data was already existing and others I generated.

[15] For the City’s initiative regarding community gardens, see “Community Gardens on Municipal Property”, City of Windsor, online (pdf): <www.citywindsor.ca/residents/environment/Environmental-Master-Plan/Documents/Map%20of%20recommended%20Community%20Garden%20Sites.pdf>.

[16]  Sonia Meerai, Idil Abdillahi & Jennifer Poole, “An Introduction to Anti-Black Sanism” (2016) 5:3 Intersectionalities 18 at 24.

[17] See e.g. Jay D Gatrell, Neil Reid & Paula Ross, “Local Food Systems, Deserts, and Maps: The spatial Dynamics and Policy Implications of Food Geography” (2011) 31:4 Applied Geography 1195.

[18] Jenifer Buckley et al, “Social Relationships and Farm-to-Institution Initiatives: Complexity and Scale in Local Food Systems” (2013) 8:4 J Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 837 at 399.

[19] Mariana Valverde, “The Ethic of Diversity: Local Law and the Negotiation of Urban Norms” (2008) 33:4 L & Social Inquiry 895 at 898.

To the next place

I’m writing from a bus. I love the feeling of moving forward, always have. Just the feeling of going somewhere, of at least a little bit of unknown at the next part of the journey. The feeling also brings back other bus trips; Peru, squashed in between two people in the front of a tiny bus, watching the sparse landscape pass by in the evening glow; leaving Dresden, heart pounding having just managed to get to the OTHER bus depot across town after realizing, almost too late, that I was at the wrong one (so much for booking the station that was closer to my couchsurf…..).

But even now, travelling between two small Ontario cities, it just feels good to be moving. And reading my old blog posts. Let me tell you, it’s an odd experience, as it was certainly me writing, but sometimes I don’t recognize myself. I still love fermenting things, but I don’t have the same fervour for massaging salt into cabbage that I seemed to have before. Which has me thinking—how do we know the difference between growing away from something and when we have fallen out of step with things we enjoy?

New Shoots

I am often caught up in thoughts about how we cling to our beliefs about food and are resistant to change. My undergraduate thesis focussed on food and our motivation to change our eating habits; and since then, I have been fascinated by our attachment to beliefs about consumption and what people think we “should” be eating and drinking. As I write I am listening to q, and one of the guests has just shared that he is on a “cleanse.” The idea that certain foods are deemed “dirty” and others “clean” largely goes against the notion of a balanced, grounded, and even feasible, approach to eating and enjoying food. People are so divided over what we should be eating and drinking – for health, the environment – but I think it is crucial that no matter what standpoint we come from, we care about food, have conversations, and attempt to keep ourselves open so that we do not become too rigid in our beliefs and habits.

Despite being keenly interested in eating local when possible and paying attention to how my food is grown and gets to me, I was, and remain, very much in love with wines from all around the globe. I’ve not been impressed by our Ontario wines, and have come around to the idea that this might have to do more with me dogmatically sticking to my belief that we don’t create the most fantastic wines rather than any real understanding of Ontario viticulture. And so I’ve happily set off to change my mind about Ontario wines.

I won’t cease to enjoy imported wines, as I have too much fun exploring different wine growing regions and grapes, but at least I can say that I have a new found interest in local wine. And as I should! The idea of “house wine” has become somewhat muddled, but I like the traditional view that the house wine is representative of a local terroir and vintages that thrived, hence the lower price. House wines have, unfortunately, become seemingly synonymous with terrible wine that the restaurant wants to move. In the same spirit of bringing back ‘real’ house wines, I think I should do a little more exploration of our local fermented grapes.

Maybe in the future I’ll get into a bit of tipsy talk, but there are some knowledgeable wine writers out there, so with that I’ll leave you with a cheers to the latest Pearl Morissette Ontario riesling.

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The garlic bulbs planted in the fall are growing alongside some two year old grape vines. 

Sibling Meadery

I can’t quite believe how long it’s been since I last wrote. I must admit that this post has been in my drafts folder for quite some time now, as evidenced by how long my mead has been fermenting since then! I have had many moments where I had a sudden inclination to sit down and write, yet somehow the thoughts haven’t been funnelled onto the page as easily as I feel they arise (or as easily as mead is funnelled into jars ;-).

Though I’ve certainly had time for relaxing, I’ve not fallen to ‘decrepitness’, as my dad amusingly put it. Early rising, cycling the hectic roads of London, reading, cottaging, various little undertakings, and lots of fermenting projects and cooking with the family have kept me on my toes. Instead of trying to delve into all those endeavours, let me ramble on about one in particular -making mead.

There is something that strikes me as very communal about fermenting foods and drink. The communities of bacteria, cultures, yeasts…yes, that is certainly the beginning. But the sharing and love involved in fermenting is likely why I feel that it is such a communal undertaking; you’re working with communities of bacteria so that you may feed your own community and share with those around you the fruits of your fermenting ventures. As Sandor Ellix Katz aptly says in A Cultural Revivalist Manifesto, food is a “complex web of relationships” and “fermentation is one way in which we may consciously cultivate this web. This is a daily practice of cultural revival.” Maybe that’s partly why I have resisted paying for milk kefir grains since I’ve returned, since sharing grains and SCOBYs seems so much closer to the ethos of fermentation, and if you merely buy the starters then there is no expansion or connections made. But I digress, that may be a tangent for another post.

My brother and I began our mead making adventures when we discovered a big jug of dark honey that had been kicking around in the basement. Though we weren’t sure the quality was good enough for daily use, we figured it would be perfect for our initial attempt at making mead. We had two little carboys, so instead of making one batch and splitting it, we decided to do a more traditional wild ferment in one and then add a more commercial yeast to the other. Walker put cinnamon and a bit of chai tea in the yeasted mead, and I put a couple cups of rose petal tea into the wild fermented mead. My dad later started his own mead with raspberries, so we will hopefully have quite the tasting at some point. I’m delighted to report that they all got to bubbling, and the yeasted mead has now been bottled. I’m leaving the wild fermented mead to bubble a little longer before I rack it (move it into another vessel) to see whether it will then start to bubble again after stirring up the yeasts. I’m looking forward to giving it a bit of a taste when I rack it, but until then I’m contented listening to it bubble, a sound a fondly remember from my childhood and my dad’s yearly beer-making.

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Simple Eats, Pensive Walks, and Clarity

After some humming and hawing over my most recent adventure, I decided to take the plunge and take a week’s vacation on my own, and what a delight it was! It was difficult knowing what I needed before I left, but it quickly became apparent to me that I needed some time to myself to walk a different city and experience a change of pace. I’d been to Paris once before, but it’s a city that feels so full of history and vibrant with current happenings that it’s a place that you could return to time and time again and still feel that you’ve experienced new things and learned a bit more.

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I had some amazing food while in Paris, and many of my meals took the form of a picnic by a canal, the Seine, or in a park. They were simple affairs, but accompanied with a bit of French wine they were always delicious and very fresh. I picked up lots of my food at markets, where I often lost track of time wandering through the stalls and admiring the heaping piles of food. 
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Sometimes it takes a step back or a change of scenery to gain some clarity of mind. There are certainly aspects of Ireland that I appreciate, and I have made some wonderful friends, but I’ve never felt settled here or like it is where I belong. As I travel I feel drawn to some places more than others, and my time in Paris really helped me realize that it’s time for me to move on instead of trying to push myself to enjoy a place that I feel ready to leave.

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Spring and the Causeway Coast

The season has begun to shift toward spring; though it’s not quite as dramatic a shift as what we experience in Canada, the longer days and warmer weather are certainly welcome and bring a new energy to the city. There are daffodils sprouting and many trees that are in new bloom. I can’t help but miss Canada at this time of year…though as I’ve heard you had snow on the ground recently, so I’ll save my nostalgic feelings for when it becomes a bit warmer.

Joelle and I visited the Temple Bar market for the first time, and I was quite impressed. I had been told that it wasn’t a “true” farmers’ market, and while that might be true in some ways, there are a couple gems that certainly make the trip worthwhile. Plus, on a nice day, the trip is worth it just to enjoy the buzz downtown, the sunshine, and possibly street musicians. The McNally Family Farm booth is my favourite, as they have plentiful fresh greens, which are rather hard to come by here…purslane, spinach, chard (!), dandelion leaves…I’ve come home with a huge green bouquet. Tonight’s meal was a lovely dandelion veggie stew with week-long fermented rye sourdough. I think I’ll be eating greens with all my meals for the next few days 🙂DSC05454DSC05452

We headed for a weekend visit in Belfast and the Causeway coast. We lucked out with wonderfully warm weather and blue skies. The differences between Belfast and Dublin were interesting to note; for example, we found that in Belfast the roads were wider and many buildings were modern and were also taller. The Botanic Gardens in Queens University were splendid, with many blooming flowers and people enjoying the sun. There we also visited the Ulster Museum, a fascinating place housing powerful history exhibits. The World War I posters were a reminder of the pressure placed on Irish men to enlist and they portrayed the guilt tactics and promises of pride and glory. Many posters were also aimed at women, pressuring them to tell the men to go to war and not hold them back. It was an unsettling view into a time in history that I can scarcely imagine. The museum also housed a very moving exhibit on The Troubles, which are a part of the not so distant history of Belfast. The city has a sad and horrific history, and it was strange to stand at the waterfront and imagine the Titanic departing over 100 years ago.

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The countryside and seaside North of Belfast is very beautiful; Giant’s Causeway is impressive and breathtaking, and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge area was just as stunning, and provided a peaceful and calming place the kick off our shoes and sit for a while.

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Unhurried Fruition

It’s hard for me not to return again and again to the thought of what my next “step” is; to what program(s) do I want to apply?…who do I want to work with?…and it goes on. It’s easy to get caught up in such repetitive thinking, and though of course it’s important to continue to do research into what I might enjoy embarking on next, it’s also important to let those feelings simply sit and marinate so that I might enjoy where I’m at. As with many things, it’s easier said than done, but Pema Chödrön’s words resonate with me and have helped me to appreciate aspects of my life that I enjoy right now instead of thinking so much about what the future might hold.

Excerpt from Comfortable with Uncertainty:

‘Fruition’ implies that at some future time you will feel good. One of the most powerful Buddhist teachings is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you are oriented toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.

One of the deepest habitual patterns that we have is the feeling that the present moment is not good enough. We frequently think back to the past, which maybe was better than now, or perhaps worse. We also think ahead quite a bit to the future, always holding out hope that it will be a little bit better than now. Even if things are going really well now we usually don’t give ourselves credit for who we are in the present.

[…]

Instead of looking for fruition, we could just try to stay with our open heart and open mind. This is very much oriented to the present. By entering into this kind of unconditional relationship with ourselves, we can begin to connect with the awake quality that we already have.

Of course I wish I felt as peaceful as this quote sounds about accepting my unknown future. I don’t expect to suddenly be able to embrace the unknown, but I think that these words were a good reminder that I can give myself a break from worrying about the future as much as I do. If I can learn to gently remind myself of Chödrön’s teaching, maybe I will be able to practice some acceptance of what I do not know and what is to come.

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A sunset, sights, and art

I tend to feel compelled to make my posts cohesive in some way or another, and though there’s nothing very cohesive about this one, I have been feeling rather reflective about the art and scenes I have encountered as of late. I came across a lovely quote by the well-spoken Edgar Degas…here is his response to a question posed by an Irish journalist: “My art, what do you want to say about it? Do you think you can explain the merits of a picture to those who do not see them?…I can find the best and clearest words to explain my meaning, and I have spoken to the most intelligent people about art, and they have not understood; but among people who understand, words are not necessary, you say humph, he, ha and everything has been said.” Though it could be debated whether you can explain the merits of a picture to another person, I can certainly connect with the notion that the best expression can sometimes be a little grunt of understanding or resonance.

After a walk out to the lighthouse with a friend who was visiting for a conference, and after passing through a very weird sketchy industrial area where I was glad to have company, my friend and I found ourselves heading back to the city along the coast, this time along a weathered walking trail. The tide was out, and the setting sun created a beautiful glittering trail all across the beach where the birds were busy eating their fill of exposed creatures. Sunsets have such a magical quality that cannot be captured by a camera, and certainly not by words…except maybe humph, he, and ha…ok, sounds silly, I know, but we certainly felt rather overcome by the beauty.

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It has been wonderful to have another person to explore the city with, so while my friend was here we went for a visit to Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library. The castle area was a neat mix of old and new architecture, and the library was a visual feast, displaying prints and texts from the ancient world and major religions. It certainly gave me the feeling of being surrounded by some very meaningful and historic pieces of work.

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I have been going out to various events that I found on a very convenient site put together by a Dubliner who wants to spread the word about lectures, music, and other things happening in Dublin. A couple highlights this week include a celebration of Dylan Thomas’ 100th birthday, a panel discussion on social inclusion, and a “Geek Girl” social and talk tonight at Trinity. The two talks provoked some great discussion and I left feeling thoughtful and energized. The Dylan Thomas celebration was a wonderful evening that included a lecture, poems, and some beautiful folksy haunting music. I felt carried by the music as I cycled back to the house…

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