Category Archives: PaleoDad

Boise responds to rise of urban agriculture

Row cropping in the city is not that weird.
Today is the deadline for comments on Boise’s initial proposal for urban gardens and farms. I feel some degree of responsibility for goading the city in this direction by installing a front-yard garden last year that pushed the boundaries of current zoning laws. I was initially invited to sit on the Urban Agriculture Committee, but I did not pursue the opportunity, so this is the first I’ve seen of the committee’s report.

At first glance, it looks like the committee addressed most of my concerns:

  • They are not forcing people to use bourgeois garden boxes and will allow row cropping.
  • Gardening will be allowed in front yards.
  • Fencing and setbacks will not be required for community or residential gardens.

The committee proposed a few other ideas that make sense, including signage indicating contact info for the gardener and limits on noise and activity at night, which I assume does not include harvesting or sitting around drinking beers in the garden. I’m not sure I understand the rationale for limiting the growing season to March to November, though I support a “clean-up date.” But I intend to keep cool weather crops in the ground through the winter. I am also not clear how the final urban ag policy will fit in with historical preservation guidelines, but I hope that the new ordinance will trump the limits imposed by preservationists.

It’s neat that the city may allow people to sell produce raised on site as well.

The committee also came up with proposed rules for urban farmers, who grow specifically for off-site sales, as opposed to mere urban gardeners such as myself. But some of the local farmers are upset with a few of the provisions. In fact, I learned of the proposed regs in an email from friend and mentor, Katie Painter, who runs Global Gardens, the successful refugee farming project in Boise. Painter brought up several good points that seem to limit opportunities for establishing urban farms: the requirement for obtaining permission from neighbors seems especially excessive, though, in my opinion, a clause urging urban farmers to communicate with neighbors could be helpful. I agree with Painter that the rigid seasons proposed by the committee and the verbiage on working hours will hurt urban farms; farming is a 24/7/365 operation, but does not have to be a nuisance.

I also think that the city should throw in some positive incentives for establishing new urban farms and gardens along with the new regulations. I could support tax incentives, grants or low cost/free use of available city land, as Farmer Marty suggested in the recent Boise Weekly article on the proposed rules.

“It just seems naive and not that thought-out and a way for the city to say, ‘We support urban agriculture.’ But the only support I see is it’s putting restrictions on me, and I don’t see that as support.” — Marty Camberlango.

Overall, I think the three pages of suggestions are good—it makes sense to allow more chickens and bees within city limits and to clarify the rules for people. My understanding is that the city and the Urban Ag Committee is currently tweaking their proposal, based on public feedback and will go to the City Council with a more concrete plan in the near future. If you have comments or suggestions, you can contact Cody Riddle at Planning and Development Services today. I’m going to send him a link to this post.

Radio Boise tweets summarized

For a few weeks now I’ve been intermittently tweeting about Radio Boise (and not blogging at all). Here is a collection of tweets in time order using Storify to organize them.

I went to the official ribbon cutting ceremony last week and was surprised at how excited I really was. I’ve always been on board with the idea of community radio in Boise and I remember going to the very first meeting some eight years ago when it all started. But I also kept a little distance from the effort, at first not thinking I had much to offer, then not sure if it was for real or not, and most recently trying to remain objective as a journalist covering the story (someone actually asked me if I was there to cover the ribbon cutting and I was thrilled to reply that no, I’m just there because I love the idea).

But now that it’s on the air and a new voice in the Idaho media landscape, I’m embracing the station fully. I grew up listening to Morgan State University’s community radio programming and fell in love with Caribbean music from a young age. Here’s to a generation of Boise kids growing up with a new universe of music and ideas and culture. Much respect to Jeff Abrams and the entire Radio Boise crew for pulling this off.

Speak to your iPod

I’ve been wondering if there is a way to control my iPod Touch (4g) with voice commands, especially when skiing, when, for example an Indigo Girls song comes on or something and I need to skip to something more like Mac Dre. This would also be useful when using the rowing machine at the YMCA, jogging, biking or anytime I don’t want to dig the ipod out of a pocket or backpack.

There is a way, but it took me 30 minutes on Google to figure it out, so here is the process in a few easy steps.

1. You need headphones with a button.
The ones that come with the iPod actually have a button, though I did not know that. Maybe I’m the last iPod user to know, but I don’t think it said anywhere that the microphone is also a button.

2. Push and hold the button for two seconds.
The built-in Voice Control software opens up on the ipod. Again, Apple brags about this feature on its iPod web site and has an entire support page on using Voice Control that never mentions this button. You can also push and hold the iPod Home button (the little round one at the bottom center) to bring up Voice Control. But you don’t have to download an app or anything—it’s built in to the software (I looked on the app store three times trying to find Voice Control).

3. Speak to your iPod.
You can tell it the following:

  • Play
  • Pause
  • Next song
  • Previous song
  • What is the time?

It also recognizes a bunch of other commands cataloged here.

4. Bonus. The little button can also accomplish much of this without the voice commands. Double click to skip tracks, click to pause and play. Really I just want to skip tracks though, when a bad song comes on. That’s all. The time thing is cool.

Making masa

One of the coolest things I experienced on my recent trip to Mexico was making tamales from scratch with Nicole. She’s already put together a really good description of the process on her website, so I merely add the video here, with a few comments.

1. Sweet tamales with raisins and brown sugar are really good.
2. I love the woman in the pink tank top. She was very proud of her masa and tried to school Nicole on cleaning the skins off the kernels better, but Nicole wasn’t having any of it.
3. I want access to a molino here in Boise … who’s in?
4. Sorry about my finger over the lens in a few spots.

Seed porn

Our first order of seed packets just arrived from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, purveyor of what my farming buddy Robert dubbed “seed porn,” out of Mansfield, Missouri … you have to order the catalog to get the full centerfold effect.

Heirloom seeds, soon to be mixed with dirt, water and sun.

I should have one more order coming from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply before the weekend, including the onions and leeks, which are the most critical items at this point in late winter. We are going to try to get some started inside this weekend, though I want to try direct seeding the onions as well in March. I also splurged on a 2″ soil blocker so that we don’t have to rely on plastic cell trays for starts … it’s the European way, apparently.
A dizzying array of seedporn.

This weekend we will fix up the greenhouse, removing the east-facing upper panels and replacing them with clear plastic, and then get some alliums in clean dirt in the house. We’re also going to work the compost pile that has been languishing all winter, turning it and spreading some around the two main garden plots. And if we have time, I want to reroute some underground piping for what remains of the lawn before we turn the water on in a month or so.

My 1998 trip in Egypt

I dug out my Egypt journal from 1998 when I spent about a five weeks traveling across the Sinai, to Cairo and up the Nile (which means south, into Africa). This was my first time really traveling. I was 20 years old.

I was hoping for some penetrating political analysis that might help me understand the current situation in Cairo, but there’s not much there. I did meet tons of young Egyptians with very modern, occasionally progressive, selectively informed views of the world—some of whom I imagine are now gathered on Tahrir Square. But I was not very aware of Egyptian politics at the time.

There are a couple of themes that jump out:

1) I can never sleep: “I can’t sleep cuz of the damn Bedu Tea—that’s it!” (2/3/98)

2) I have lots of digestive problems (in retrospect, these are probably, wheat/gluten related, but I did not know it at the time:

“I shat and burped all nite long + hardly slept. I had something really bad in my stomach – I tried to sleep late but of course just lay there. So I took a cold shower, tried to shave, + made noodles that I couldn’t even eat. I lay in pain reading Song of Myself for and hr. or so + drank a Pepsi. Then I went off to check e-mail—oh shit. I was stumbling—my head is light… ” (2/4/98)

“Do they really drink Nile water here?? I think so…” (2/26/98)

“So I slept crappy in Mohammed’s crappy village. Shat bad thrice. This morn. really bad. All water every 20 min. I wanted to hurl. We had to ride a truck into Edfu — 1 LE — I was w/ 4 tourists now. Needed a shitter in Edfu – but no one helped me so I hurled in a coffee shop— a lot of Muhammed’s crappy sahleb did come up. And other undigested food. Perhaps the culprit. I then led the tourists to the temple and we are waiting for Jeff to get his Pharonic pleasure. The back to Luxor + either to the Red Sea or Cairo. We’ll see.” (3/4/98)

3) I’m still more obsessed with religion than politics:

“We talked about Jews, Is. + america, religion, sex, money, anarchy and I explained evolution. One lawyer guy thought I was Is. and kind of freaked me out. There was an old security guard from the bank there who was very funny. Sephina—moch kabir. Then I drank helba w/ three guys but they murdered a rat so I left nauseous. Now I am trying to sleep. —INCHALLAH.” (Esna — 2/26/98)

“Then I met up w/ 4 college kids + a mother—Fifi, Ibrahim, Mohammed, + Joseph. They were kinda young but we hung out for all afternoon. Went to a few mosques—I like a good mosque. Then I told them I was Jewish. They were shocked!! So was Gaza chick. And the boys I hung w/ last nite.” (Cairo 2/8/98)

“Then another “rich” friend Mohammed showed up + the religious conversations started. I am kinda tired of this but feel it is my duty to spread doubt + fear thru-out the Muslim world. Every Muslim I have met uses the same “Scientific” proof for god—the teleologic approach I think—who made the sun, the Nile, yo momma—chicken + egg, and well at least no Jesus stuff. We talked for a long time. They thought I was a spy … Then Mohammed gave me a Great Cheese Bun + I went back to Jamaica + slept on the porch-er balcón. This morn I talked to my two stoner roomates a Coloradan lad who is probably going to get … [censored!]” (Palestine Club, Aswan 2/29/98)
[CONTEXT: the “doubt + fear” I mention above is the absolutely intoxicating spasms of perplexity that an agnostic, pro-Arab Jewish American who speaks Arabic creates throughout the Muslim world, or at least did in 1998 (pre-GWOT)… nothing nefarious.]

4) I think the most interesting post journal entry (beside my immature ponderings on women, tourism and food) is my experience visiting the town of Asyut, a long time fundamentalist stronghold that was under lockdown in 1998 by Egyptian police (army?) I hitchhiked there:

2/22/98 Al-Qasr —>Asyut
“So I continued up the street and encountered two nice boys … from Farafra of course … we sat down + the younger one ran off-returning moments later w/ two heads of lettuce for me. So I broke out the peanuts. 1/2 hr. later a big truck pulled up—I lashed my bag to the bed + Ahmad + his friend + I took off for Asyut!! Quais! He was a very nice man from Alexandria. We talked about the desert a lot—he doesn’t like the desert. At the rest stop they shat in the desert and then made tea w/ a big gas stove in the cab of the tractor trailer. They kept a tea pot, cups, sugar etc in the glove compartment. They dropped me—for a head of lettuce—7 km from Assyut, center of Islamic fundamentalism + terrorist activity. I walked a km. and then a small pickup stopped +took me into town. I met some local college boys + we walked over the bridge in search of coshari—only to be stopped by the police—copious police you could say—they got rid of the college boys + took over. I watched as they searched targeted galibeya’d individuals from every minivan. 3 guys w/ guns felt ’em up looking for a gun I guess—checked ID worked em over. I wasn’t quite sure why or why I was just standing there. Then the CAPTAIN came up + asked me about a hotel + made conversation. Of course leading to Iraq + US + well the inch-Allahing Sadaam wiping out Israel. w/ a hearty laugh + smile. I just swallowed … [censored] … I gave them my nus-nus Is/Pal bit—then I jumped on a police transport w/ two armed guards + crossed the channel. I switched trucks + went to get coshari w/ an armed guard. I was really laughing now. Then I got a hotel room for 20 lbs—not what I really wanted, but fine—my own room—and Mr. Mamdough who likes dealing w/ Americans + wants to migrate. There are 3 police here guarding me. Thanks.”

2/23/98 Jihad —> Masr Qadimah
“Slept fine—survived at least—I waited around for my police escort this morning + we went out—the 4 of us. I got some good falafel — 1.80 for a lot. Then we walked to the Nile—checked it out. They wouldn’t even let anyone talk to me or even come near — I bought some good hot bread. We let it cool on the street. There is a whole culture of letting fresh bread cool here. In fact—all of society may be based on the 15 min cooling period of bread. Then I bought the pigs tea—went to get my bag + we all went to the train station. 13 LE to Luxor—I think 2nd class. We waited in the train station cafeteria for 45 min. + then they “helped” me on the train. Very strange … The train was pretty nice—a lot of leg room. I read a little—looked out the window—the whole way was NICE farm land. I love the geometry of farm land I think. It is beautiful squares + diff. levels of tall sugarcane, dwarfing hashish, soldierly onion … and the occasional squatting fellahin changing all that geometry w/ a sickle.”

Ipod Touch as the new laptop

This is my computer setup for traveling in Mexico

I decided not to lug my laptop to Mexico for this reporting trip. Instead I´m working with my iPod Touch (4th Generation) and an external bluetooth keyboard.

It´s worked really well so far. I upgraded my iPod before I left so that I could make use of the on-board microphone and the bluetooth support that the newest iPods have. I picked up a Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 the night before I left because I like the key action better than the Apple keyboards, which must have been made for graphic designers who can´t speal anyway. And I use a cheap plastic stand for the ipod while I´m typing.

I am using the PlainText app for typing up my notes every night and for drafting blog posts. I like the clean interface but wish I could figure out how to use bullets and maybe even embed hyperlinks. It also syncs with my Dropbox account, which is where I access all of my notes for the book anyway. That is really convenient (when I have wi-fi).

I´m using the WordPress iPhone app to blog, mostly, but again, it seems to be lacking in its ability to handle photos and links and character styles like bold, etc. Maybe there is a better one out there? I´ve had to go online to fix a lot of issues with my posts. (Right now I´m using a PC at a public library somewhere in Mexico City … I´ll have to geotag the post to find out where I am, actually.)

It also seems like PlainText screws up the hard returns on my blog posts, but I have to experiment more with that.

The new iPod takes really nice little videos, but again, I have not had stable enough wi-fi anywhere to upload them. I am using HootSuite to post to Twitter and Facebook, Skype to call home and now TextFree to send free texts (otherwise they cost me at least 50 cents apiece). I am also using SpanishDict, which does not require wi-fi and has proven pretty thorough and even hip to the times.

Oh, and most important perhaps, I use iTalk light to record interviews, though I might buy the full version when I get back.

I like the little plastic base for the iPod (from XtremeMac) but I think a sturdier one would help. There is alot of pushing on the screen even when I use the external keyboard. If I need to plug in, I just put the iPod upside down and work near an outlet.

There are only two problems: (1) A frequent lack of wi-fi and (2) the inability to transfer photos from my digital SLR camera to the iPod (computer). I toyed with the idea of using the Eye-Fi memory card in my camera, which can connect to wi-fi, but I could not figure out a good system before I left. I also found a card reader that fits in the iPod on before I left but I can´t find it again.

I know others are doing this type of thing, but it took me a long time to figure out all the peices in an economical way, so I thought this might help other reporters or travelers out there. Let me know if you have other suggestions or techniques.

My unexpected Story Story Night

All of a sudden story telling is so hot. At one point in my life—pre-journalism, actually—I was full of stories and even thought of “griot” as a profession. But now that I think back, once I became a professional journalist, the stories kind of dried up. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe the rigors of journalistic writing sapped all my ability to spin a yarn or the strict adherence to facts and concomitant fear of relying on the reporter’s own knowledge base in reporting a story robbed me of my oral history. Even my kids noticed that my stories were pretty lame; my wife has kicked my storytelling ass for five years.

But now that I’m independent again, I am all of a sudden full of tales. And I’m not the only one. Hundreds of people have been showing up to tell and hear stories at Boise’s Story, Story Night. I kept hearing about the event, which takes place monthly at the Linen Building. It goes like this: a few pros tell a tell, related to a theme and then they pick names from a hat and Jack or Jill Boise get five minutes to wow the audience with how cool they were way back when. I just kept missing the event. Until August.

I biked down to the Linen District, forgot a lock and left my bike on a rack hoping for the best. I was late as usual. The topic was Dog Days of Summer, and I thought back to my best summer … which was also the first time I laid eyes on the Salmon River. So I uncharacteristically threw my name in the hat thinking there would be little chance I’d get called up. I am the kind of person who likes to observe for a while before jumping into the fray, but I was feeling a little on the edge. And then, after the fist storyteller did a bang up job talking about a summer down south, the woman running the show called my name. Oops.

So here’s what I came up with. A bit rushed at the end, but I like it. I thought I would sound all nervous because my knees were involuntarily buckling the whole time, but I actually sound somewhat relaxed.

Hoffman’s Cove/Mallard Yarn

[Audio courtesy of Boise State Radio, which is podcasting the stories].

I didn’t win, but you can hear the story slam winner in iTunes by clicking here. A few younger people came up to me after the show and asked what Earth First! was/is. None of my students in my college composition class could place it either, though one did shout out “Treehuggers!” That about sums it up.

I have to say, getting up in front of a couple hundred mostly strangers (if there is such a concept in Boise) was a very liberating thing to do and I highly recommend it. It was also liberating to tell an Idaho audience that yes, it was Earth First! that brought me to Idaho in the first place. I’ve told very few people that over the years but it’s true. I’m still nostalgic for the Cayuga chapter actually. Shh. Don’t tell anyone.

I am more appropriate than previously thought

I’m taking out another contract on my garden today. It seems our trellis is in the right-of-way and the Ada County Highway District wants to make sure I won’t whine, should they ever exercise their rights.

A few months ago, Boise Weekly readers might recall, I was served with a fence violation for erecting a trellis in my front yard. The fence violation spiraled into a full-fledged historic preservation violation because of the materials used in its construction and because of the major landscaping change which the trellis surrounds: a nearly 2,000 square foot front-yard garden.

The garden is thriving. We have been eating salad every day, carrots are maturing, radishes are almost all eaten up, some peas are crawling up the trellis, though looking a bit yellowed already. Everyday I walk barefoot in the garden and eat turnips right out of the ground, graze on the lettuces. Every day multiple people walk or bike by and stop to chat about the garden. At nearly midnight last night a group of cyclists rode by and shouted, “Nice garden, dude,” as I read on the porch.

So it is with great pleasure that I report to you that the City of Boise has deemed the garden and trellis “appropriate.” That is the term they use. I have a Certificate of Appropriateness pending for my little urban farm.
It’s pending because I need to get my license agreement with ACHD done first. And because they’ve asked us to put some permanent greenery along the street-facing edge of the yard. So I need to find a low-water, low-profile creeping plant that will grow down a nearly vertical slope to the street but not take over the garden, if anyone has any recommendations … something that is not grass.

But the other interesting thing that came out of this process is that the city’s Historic Preservation Department plans to convene a working group at the end of the summer to discuss gardens in Historic Districts. Sarah Shafer, the lead staffer at Historic Preservation told me that the commissioners prefer raised beds but said that the were looking for some more recommendation on how to handle gardens in historic districts.

I argued in my letter to the city that gardens are inherently historical. And if I end up participating in the garden working group, I will argue that raised beds are inherently limiting and a touch elitist. Well, I won’t argue, but I will try to make that point as graciously and eloquently as possible.

I can’t be sure, but I think our giant front-yard garden has inspired some others in the neighborhood to plant it up. There is a yard a few blocks down that has a ton of corn and beets coming in and I noticed some new raised beds in an alley around the corner. Wouldn’t it be amazing if people started finding tomato plant volunteers in their lawns instead of dandelions?

I’d like to share the letter I wrote to the city requesting the Cetificate of Appropriateness … you can read it after the jump. Hell, it’s public record, so anyone can see it anyway. In the letter, I stressed that the city is encouraging urban gardening and other environmentally responsible practices on the one hand but limiting people’s imaginations through zoning on the other. I think they realize that and are looking for a solution.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that whatever neighbor complained about my plot will come forward and talk to me about it. I have no hard feelings, even though the process of being forced to defend my land-use choices has been pretty annoying. I would say now that I still believe the city has a right to regulate things like fences and landscaping to some degree, but that it would have been better for any aggrieved neighbor to have a discussion with me first, and then turn me in if I was an asshole about it. That’s a more local solution.

Continue reading I am more appropriate than previously thought

PaleoDad: A Fish Story

The fishbowl
I always wanted a bird. Grew up with dogs. Never much liked cats. This morning, however, I settled for some fish.

Petra and I wandered into a fish store after a quick trip to the pediatrician. I’d thought about getting her a few fish, but hadn’t told her that was the plan. Just in case.

So we walked into the fish store. It smelled like fish. There were large tanks everywhere and I was immediately pleased with myself for not getting her 2-year-old expectations up about owning some fish.

I looked at the price lists posted on each tank and had total sticker shock. The fish in this store were like $30, $26.50, $85. Really cool fish, but c’mon. I’ll pay $25 for an Idaho fishing license. I’ll buy wild salmon for $11 bucks a pound once in a while.

But when I was a kid fish were, like, free.

A guy came over and I preemptively told him we were just browsing. We found a few fish that were $3 or $4 dollars and decided we wanted to take at least one fish home. So I found the guy again and asked, “do you have any goldfish?”

They kept the goldfish in a big tank near the back alley door. The guy actually said (in front of my daughter) “They’re just fish food,” as he scooped four little fish into a baggie.

48 cents. My daughter’s first pets.

She insisted I prop the bag up next to her car seat. She asked: “Can I be the mommy to the fish?”

We got home and I found a vase. It was not your standard fish bowl, but it was see-through and had a bit of a bulb at the bottom. We put a few rocks in and a little fake tree we had purchased at the fish store and then I started to pour the fish in.

Then the first of a pair of fish emergencies ensued.

Petra pours stuff all the time. Like in the bath. From one cup to another, again and again and again. She knows that some cups have greater volumes than others. Greater capacities to hold liquids.

I was a bit out of practice.

Apparently this hard core plastic bag from the fish store had a greater volume than the fishes’ new flower vase home. So as I’m pouring, the fish are still swimming around the bottom of the baggie and the water is quickly rushing to the top of the vase and pouring all over the kitchen floor.

So what do you do? The fish are now swimming around in wrinkles of plastic with just a finger of water. There is water all over the floor. The fish bowl is filled to capacity. No room for fish.

I almost panicked, but remained calm. I straightened out the fish bag as I simultaneously rushed the vase to the kitchen sink. Flashbacks to my childhood rushed through my mind. That’s why we always moved the fish near the kitchen sink. That’s why we had a net. My mom was some kind of genius.

I dumped off enough water from the vase, careful not to spill the rock garden out. And then dumped the fish in. They seemed pleased. Two found their way into the deeps. Two hung out at the top.

Petra sprinkled a little fish food in. We couldn’t tell if they went for it or not. We moved on to another activity.

Fast forward 6 hours or so. Wife comes home and notices the fish.

“You got fish.” She states. “I know you wanted fish. They don’t look so good.”

Two of them, the ones in the deeps, indeed, did not look so good. “Are you sure that’s an okay fish bowl?”

What could be wrong with our fish bowl, rescued from the recycling pile? It’s a container of water. But apparently not all containers are adequate fish habitat. They didn’t mention this at the fish store.

We put Petra to bed and when I emerged the fish were lifeless. Side floating, little fins drooping downward. Food pellets nestled in the crook of a fake leaf. The very beginning of a fish toilet shimmying on the bottom of the vase.

I flushed them. 48 cents down the drain.

I read once how to talk to your kids about dead fish. It was a great story, probably in the New Yorker, about how when we are born everything seems alive and growing up is a series of shocking disappointments that we are surrounded by lifeless inanimate objects. And then it all ends with a couple shovels and some dirt. At least that’s how I remember the article.

I am thinking now about what kind of conversation we are going to have about the fish. In fourth or fifth grade, when my parents told me that my childhood dog had died I sobbed and shuffled around the house for weeks. I had grown up with Igloo.

But these fish, that came home in a plastic bag, we hardly had a chance to know. I think I’ll invest in a bowl with better air circulation and try again.