Succulents that don’t suck

Top-angle photography of succulents

 In Arizona, everything dries out pretty quickly and you can get away with growing succulents in a variety of soil mixes. In the Pacific Northwest, different story. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve lost a disturbing number of succulents since moving here. I knew I had to make a change so I found a succulent expert, Cassidy at Succulents and Sunshine. From Cassidy, I learned about this soil mix from Bonsai Jack.

Stay tuned! I hope 2022 will mark the return of succulents to Chez Haiku!


Photo by Maria Orlova on Unsplash

Rethinking everything

A woman in a gray sweater throwing dried maple leaves in the air

One of the hardest things to do as a human is to reassess long-held beliefs, behaviors and traditions. 

There’s a lot holding us in place. Our families, the media, and society keep us hanging on long past the time that it makes sense. I once had a job where I had to be careful of suggesting new ideas because if we did something once it became a tradition. Inspired by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Adam Grant’s Think Again and J. Milburn’s Responsive Parenting, I have been interrogating my beliefs. Recognizing preferences for identity-first language over person-first construction, I stopped thinking of autism as a disease, I started to understand addiction as a perfectly reasonable response to trauma, and I am letting go of hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday for a long time until it wasn’t. On the surface, it seems laudable: family togetherness, good food and gratitude. But as an adult navigating the holiday, I learned that Thanksgiving can be miserable for many and not that great for vegetarians. Everyone means well.  Even though I am not evangelical about vegetarianism (it’s hard and it’s not for everyone), I have felt like a freak on Thanksgiving more than once. No surprise: that kills the good feelings around the holiday. 

A couple of years ago, I decided to be very selective about Thanksgiving companions. I was tired of explaining myself and tired of less-than-hospitable behavior. Last year, the day was a non-event, spent like any other day off. And it felt … good. There was no pressure, no cooking marathon with piles of dishes, and no overconsumption. 

This year, I am questioning a holiday that is as much about overindulgence as it is about family–maybe more. And it’s based on a false narrative that from an indigenous person’s point of view is hurtful. For some, the third Thursday in November is a day of mourning

So I’m letting it go. 

I know that’s controversial. And it’s very difficult. It’s hard to let go of a lifelong tradition, one that is deeply entrenched in U.S. culture. I respect the meaning and importance it has for others and I will try to feel thankful every day. But like hands on a steering wheel, I can shift.

After all, Gardein turkey cutlets are available year-round.

Looking for a sign

A woman and a man having coffee at a wooden table

We recently watched the Oscar-winning short film, The Silent Child, written by Rachel Shenton. I learned that 70% of deaf children worldwide are not taught sign language. They are cut off from communicating with others often by the people closest to them, family and teachers. It’s amazing to me the percentage of parents who won’t learn sign language to communicate with their child. 

The Silent Child illustrates what happens when a deaf child is left alone to make sense of what’s going on around them. Imagine everyone misunderstanding what you want and need.

The deaf community is often put in the position of accommodating a hearing world. Families with deaf children don’t–and often won’t–learn sign language. But these language skills are critical not just for later learning but also for human connection.

We need language to thrive.


“If children are deprived of language, they will not thrive.”

Bruce Bucci, deaf studies instructor, Boston University

Four to follow on Instagram:

Start learning American Sign Language for free online with Galludet University:
https://www.gallaudet.edu/asl-connect/asl-for-free


Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Sugar, Sugar

A teaspoon of white sugar spilling over on to a black surface

Let’s talk about sugar. We all love it. Some (many?) of us are addicted to it. I eat too much of it. It’s in everything. It can quickly get out of hand.

I’ve been taking part in a research study about sugar consumption that involves tracking added sugar. So I dusted off my penny system and made some improvements.

The biggest change in my system was looking at sugar over a week instead of one day. I give myself $1.75 to spend on sugar, or 25g per day the recommended maximum of added sugar for women. I’ll add “someone who identifies as a woman.” It’s 36 grams for men or someone who identifies as a man. I think you need to take your size into account here–remember these are guidelines.

I have been tracking since July 1 and I have consistently underspent my sugar allowance by 10-20 grams per week. It was a shock all over again to remind myself of the added sugar in foods. I have become accustomed to eating half or a third of certain things, like a cookie or a protein bar. I have rediscovered dates as a sweet treat. I have been working on reducing sugar in coffee creamer.

My current method is to mix my favorite plant-based creamer with unsweetened plant-based milk, 50/50. Next, I plan to try blending my own with stevia and flavored extracts inspired by this post by TJ’s Taste. Stay tuned!

Sing it with me:


More singing…

And a little more singing…

Header photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Plants everywhere, part two

Plant staging area.

I love a good plant sale.

Okay, I love ANY plant sale. But I especially appreciate locally grown plants. I know that it is far more likely that a plant raised where I live can make it in my yard with the climate and rainfall and high and low temps. The dirty secret of the PNW is the desperately dry summers. There isn’t enough time or water or patience for keeping too many “outsiders” alive and thriving in my garden. It can be challenging for new gardeners to appreciate native plants, but it can be especially hard for them to find these plants to buy. Big box stores can lead gardeners astray. Google is your friend here, as is locating your local cooperative extension and Master Gardener group

The year after we moved here, I discovered that our local Thurston County Water Conservation District holds a plant sale in January. I bought an unbelievable number of bare root trees that year. And I am happy to report that even as a novice, I was successful. Granted, some of these plants are still pretty small, but I can see a big difference this spring. 

This year I discovered the Native Plant Salvage Foundation. They have two plant sales a year, spring and fall. I now have a treasure trove of hard-to-find native plants. (Guess what we have been doing every weekend?)

Our local cat rescue has a plant sale every May as a fundraiser, with most of the plants propagated by local gardeners. If you can find a similar plant sale in your area, I highly recommend it. I bought several things a couple of years ago, including a fantastic pink Columbine that has propagated itself all over my garden.

If you live in the Phoenix or Tuscon area, check out the amazing proliferation of Little Free Plant Sharing Stands. Modeled after Little Free Libraries, these generous gardeners share plants and gardening supplies. See the map of these little gems. There’s a Little Free Garden Stands of AZ Facebook group, too.  

And of course, check your local Freecycle group for plants and gardening supplies. I have received strawberries, roses, a mini-greenhouse, pots, mulch, and more from Freecyclers. 

May = Gardening

Plant growing wild on my street and in my garden

May is when things really get going in my Pacific Northwest Garden. Lots of nice surprises. This plant grows wild along my street, has finally made an appearance in my yard. I have a new appreciation for the red alder seedlings that pop up everywhere in my yard and have started transplanting them to fill in some bare areas. I moved irises around last year and have been rewarded this year with some beautiful blooms. 

My tiny pandemic blueberry plants purchased last spring grew by leaps and bounds. Will I have blueberries this year? (Will the birds allow it?) That remains to be seen.

I have so many strawberry plants, mainly growing in containers. I bought a few, found a few from a generous gardener on Freecycle, and propagated a few more last year. 

Speaking of containers, I have an ongoing battle with the local squirrels. They are determined to dig up every pot; it seems to look for non-existent caches of squirrel goodies. I am trying several methods to redirect them. I’ll report back if anything proves to be successful. 

The raspberry plants seem to double every year. Last year I read an article about the optimum spacing for raspberries, and the author said it didn’t matter because raspberry plants do what they want. I can confirm that. 

My big dream is to have a greenhouse. If you have experience with building a greenhouse, I’d love to hear about it! My short-term solution is a portable 3x3x9 foot greenhouse on the deck. I have the outdoor thermometer sensor inside to keep an eye on the temperature. It’s been in the 50s the last couple of days, but there are three rollup windows to help control the temperature when it heats up. 

Love the one you’re with

Hellebores are a new favorite in my garden.

Gardening in your environment

My biggest takeaway from the Master Gardening program that I completed many years ago is that you need to adopt a beginner’s mind when moving to a new area. You have to learn the rhythm of the seasons, the microclimate in your yard, the native plants. Sometimes this means letting go of some of your old favorites. But I can assure you: you will be dazzled by new choices. In my Pacific Northwest Maritime garden, that new-ish favorite is Lenten Rose or Hellebore. A plant that looks good all year and blooms in winter: how can you not fall in love with a plant like that? Hellebore was the first plant that I bought here, and I’ve bought many since – I even discovered a few volunteers in my yard.

The other thing that will save you a lot of frustration: work with your climate. If you have a short growing season like I do, focus on growing things that work where you live. Growing for your zone often means that you need to unlearn what you know from another climate. If you live in Arizona, you have two growing seasons, neither of which is in the summer (northern hemisphere summer, that is). If you live in a place that gets a lot of rain, choose varieties that love wet feet.

Not sure where to start? 

In the U.S., Find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Check out the resources from your state and county cooperative extension. Cooperative Extensions are part of Land-Grant Colleges and Universities in the United States. Land-grants have a mission to provide science- and research-based agricultural information at the county level; this includes home horticulture and the Master Gardener Program. Your local cooperative extension will offer many free resources like this one Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington State

Check out seed distributors in your area and look for local varieties. For me, in Western Washington, that’s Uprising Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, and Deep Harvest Farm

How do you decide what to grow? It helps to think about your climate and pick appropriate varieties, but it’s also helpful to think about what is better to grow versus buy. Check out this list of High-value home crops. Tomatoes are universally on lists of varieties to grow yourself. 

Tip for Arizona gardeners who want tomatoes: go for small, short-season types. I love this list of vegetables for short seasons by Northern Homestead:  Annual Vegetable Varieties for a Short Growing Season.

Plants everywhere

Lots of plants on a wooden porch

This year I tried my hand at making my own seed starting mix. Last year’s mix of peat and vermiculite seemed too lean to me, so I went with my gut and added clean potting soil out of the bag. I am happy to report success. 

Here are proportions that I used:

  • ⅓ potting soil
  • ⅓ vermiculite
  • ⅓ coconut coir*

I clean my seed starting pots with soap and water before reusing them to be on the safe side. (I use Dawn dish soap.)

This year, I used reusable 2-inch pots instead of small paper cups. There are pros and cons to both methods. Being able to peel away the paper cup is a significant advantage, but the reusable pots don’t disintegrate, so I’m on the fence about which is the better option. I also purchased some new 10×20 trays. I like the extra strength trays from Bootstrap Farmer – nothing else compares. 

I was wildly successful with some seeds — others, not so much. It might have been me or my set-up–might have been the seeds. I say this as encouragement to not give up even if things don’t go as planned. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else. Experiment! Failure is part of the learning process. Would you expect to be able to play Stairway to Heaven the first time you picked up a guitar?** Probably not. 

*Because of the environmental concerns about peat moss, I recently switched to coconut coir.

** Playing guitar is probably not in the cards for me, but maybe the Kalimba version is a possibility.

Plants everywhere

Lots of plants on a wooden porch

This year I tried my hand at making my own seed starting mix. Last year’s mix of peat and vermiculite seemed too lean to me, so I went with my gut and added clean potting soil out of the bag. I am happy to report success. 

Here are proportions that I used:

 ⅓ potting soil, ⅓ vermiculite, and ⅓ coconut coir*

I clean my seed starting pots with soap and water before reusing them to be on the safe side. (I use Dawn dish soap.)

This year, I used reusable 2-inch pots instead of small paper cups. There are pros and cons to both methods. Being able to peel away the paper cup is a significant advantage, but the reusable pots don’t disintegrate, so I’m on the fence about which is the better option. I also purchased some new 10×20 trays. I like the extra strength trays from Bootstrap Farmer – nothing else compares. 

I was wildly successful with some seeds — others, not so much. It might have been me or my set-up–might have been the seeds. I say this as encouragement to not give up even if things don’t go as planned. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else. Experiment! Failure is part of the learning process. Would you expect to be able to play Stairway to Heaven the first time you picked up a guitar?** Probably not. 

*Because of the environmental concerns about peat moss, I recently switched to coconut coir.

** Playing guitar is probably not in the cards for me, but maybe the Kalimba version is a possibility.

What if you are enough; what if you have enough

person holding dandelion flower

At about this time two years ago, I read What if this were enough? a book of essays by Heather Havrilesky. After a prolonged self-improvement/professional development rampage, I was having a bit of an existential crisis and that somehow led me to Havrilesky’s book (along with Oliver Burke’s delightful The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking and Anne Lamott’s essential book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope).

My kitchenette remodel notwithstanding, I have started to train myself to be satisfied with what I have and who I am. Our society is a bit relentless and promoting the ongoing pursuit of acquiring more and more and becoming better and better. It’s exhausting. 

We all need a time out. Or maybe we just need an out. 

Something about this book sticks with me in a way that others often don’t. It’s a cautionary tale about striving for a perfect state of perfection. Havrilesky reminds us there is no ideal version of us waiting in the future. All we have is our imperfect selves in the imperfect now.

You don’t need to be thinner, richer, better dressed, a fancier car, three vacation homes, new jewelry, an Instagram-curated life to love yourself as you are right now. It’s a standing invitation that we can accept at any time.

So why not now? Love yourself. You can still grow and improve if you want to, but you deserve love right now. 

Check out this PBS Books interview with Heather Havrilesky.