Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pumpkin Kale Scones

One of my favourite birthday gifts this year was a cookbook I received from my mom, "The Book of Kale".  Kale is one of our all-time favourite veggies, both to grow and eat so I was really excited to try some of the recipes in this book, from Kale and Cranberry Crisps to Lavash Pizza with Kale, Mushrooms and Olives. 

The Savoury Kale Scones with Pumpkin & Cheese immediately caught the eye of my little baker though (he LOVES to make scones) and so we set out to try this recipe first. 

It. was. AMAZING.

Without a doubt, the best scones I've ever made - buttery, savoury and best of all, made with kale from our very own garden. The little guy loved going out back, cutting the kale for me and watching it become something so delicious. He made sure everyone who tried a scone knew that the kale came from "his garden".

Savoury Kale Scones with Pumpkin & Cheese 
(adapted from "The Book of Kale")

2 C kale leaves, loosely packed
2 C unbleached flour (we used whole wheat)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 T sugar ( I used a bit less)
1/2 C cold butter
1 egg
3/4 C buttermilk
1/2 C cooked pumpkin in small dice (I used canned)
3/4 C grated cheddar cheese ( I used a bit less)
  • Preheat oven to 375 F with oven rack in the middle
  •  Blanch kale for a minute or two then chop finely and squeeze out liquid
  •  Blend flour, salt, soda, baking powder and sugar. Cut in butter with blender or fingers.
  •  Beat the egg in a small bowl and add the buttermilk, continuing to beat until well combined. Add to dry ingredients with pumpkin and kale and cheese.
  •  Mix with fork to just combine.
  • Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheet.
  • Bake 20 minutes.

So very delicious. The recipe makes huge scones if you follow the instructions to make 8-10. I ended up cutting them in half once cooked. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Exercising my creative muscles

I haven't been writing much this last month or so, and its for a happy reason - I've been painting again.

I've been artistic as long as I can remember and I come by it honestly - my mother is a beautiful painter and illustrator. Its often made me sad that she hasn't kept up her work, especially now that her kids are grown and out of the house. I myself have slipped out of the creative habit, having convinced myself that "there just isn't time right now" while the kids are so young.  And not to sound all mushy and sentimental and well, artsy-fartsy, but it really is a part of me and when I'm not drawing or painting I'm not really whole.

It started during one of those wonderful extra-long baby naps where the house is clean, your chores are done and you're left wondering what to do with these precious and rare free minutes. Having decided that I wanted to give as many handmade gifts as possible this year, I decided to paint something for my best friend's baby daughter. I was pleased with the results but was a bit anxious - is art too personal a choice to give as a gift? Would she feel obligated to put it up even if she didn't like it? Was it even any good?

I ran it by some friends on a parenting forum I frequent and was met with lots of lovely compliments and a few people suggesting I think about selling my art. I was more than a little relieved and really very excited about painting again. But the selling thing - that had me a bit nervous. A few years ago, I opened an Etsy shop selling illustrated cards. I got extremely positive feedback, was featured on the front page of Etsy (kind of a big thing for an Etsy seller), and really loved the work.

However, I didn't do a proper business plan, I found that people loved the cards but just didn't want to shell out what hand-made cards cost when you can get a whole box of them at Costco for $15 or thereabouts, and I had some major printing issues which took up most of my time devoted to the shop. In the end, I spent many hours stressing, planning, printing, promoting and not very much time drawing. I wasn't able to justify the cost of materials and equipment and the time spent on something that didn't seem to be viable.

So, needless to say, I've been gun-shy about trying to sell my creative work again.

But, I love to paint. And I do think my paintings and illustrations are different than alot of what's out there for kids. And I have a friend who has a nice little crochet business that she runs successfully along with raising three kids who I'm using as inspiration.

I've been painting and drawing furiously during my littlest's naps, which has made my days so, so joyful. I really do feel complete again and in fact, I have to make myself stop painting most days or I'd let the laundry pile up, the dishes go unwashed and I'd forget to shower. That's how much I love it.

In the new year, I'll start a Facebook page and list some work. Just dip my toes in the water a bit. Maybe an Etsy shop, further down the road if there's interest. A local coffee shop is interested in displaying my work, so there's promise.

I'm not interested in complicating my life - I go back to work full-time in 3.5 short months and I don't want this to take away from my family life. But if I can sell a bit of work and spend those rare free moments painting instead of surfing the net or wasting time, then I think its a win-win. We'll see!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cutting down on screen time

I tend to thrive in a fast-paced environment; stress  actually makes me more productive and happier. When I have a lot to do, I get it done and then I make the most of my down time.  So, while I relish the opportunity to be at home with my babies for the first year of their lives, I sometimes find spending so much time at home a bit oppressive.As they say, the years are short but the days can be long.

 Its difficult to get everything done in a day, spend time with the kids, and get time to myself. I can find myself a bit paralyzed with indecision when the kids go to sleep (do I clean? shower? relax?) and I end up wasting away those precious hours of nap time.

I get a bit bored, which is silly because there's so much I can and should do with my time - being creative, getting outside, cleaning, fixing up the house, playing on the floor with the little ones.

The tendency to get bored and sort of mill about the house on a rainy day like today is something I've always had to fight with myself about. When I get up, get dressed, and get moving first thing in the morning, my day is so much better.  Technology has not made this easier. I find that I can so easily get sucked into the void of the computer or my phone first thing in the morning while drinking coffee, ostensibly to "check the news", which turns into reading blogs, Facebook, forums, Pinterest. Next thing I know, the baby's nap is done and I'm still not dressed.  In the evenings, its so easy to flop on the couch and start browsing Netflix - I'm emotionally and physically tired and I just want to wind down before bed. The problem is, half the time I'm watching something just for the sake of something to do. Its not intentional - its just lazy.

So, I've decided to limit my screen time. Much like eating Halloween candy, I find it difficult not to get carried away with time on the computer and my phone when its so very accessible. Clearly, my current routine isn't working so I'm going to shake things up. My days are going to start off with a walk with the kid(s) and the dogs, rather than lounging in front of the computer.  I'm hoping to spend evenings upstairs in the family room rather than in the basement with the TV, doing things I love - reading, crocheting, drawing. A glass of wine or a mug of tea and then upstairs to relax before bed.

I think I'm a bit tech-weary these days and its time to cut down, make my online time intentional and brief.

There's a whole real-life world to connect to.

And laundry to put away. Oh, the laundry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How To Cook Your Life

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that you liked the first time around, but the second time you came across it - that's when it spoke to you?

About a year and a half ago, Jay and I watched How To Cook Your Life, a documentary following Edward Espe Brown, a Zen Buddhist monk and chef, as he teaches people how to cook healthy food while nourishing their spirituality. Zen Master Dogen wrote a cookbook of the same name which  "taught that it is possible to discover Buddha in even the simplest of kitchen duties, such as washing rice or kneading dough, and so reflect on one’s own actions and behaviour in the world." At the time, I really liked it - Brown is an endearing, complex and funny character and the subject matter was interesting. What stuck with me after that first viewing is something he said when teaching his students in the film - "when you wash the rice, wash the rice" - essentially a cooking-related lesson in mindfulness and staying in the present.

Over the last several months, as we've made changes to our lifestyle and philosophy, we've noticed that certain things appear to be connected - where we read about permaculture, Zen philosophy often comes up. Take for example, One Straw Revolution, a must-read book for anyone interested in permaculture and organic gardening - many say that Zen beliefs are a central theme in Fukuoka's approach. Buddhism promotes compassion for each other as well as the Earth, less interference with nature, a focus on simple, healthy foods. Obviously, these are all ideas Jay and I can get on board with. Noticing this link between simplicity, permaculture and Buddhism, I decided to watch the movie again last night.

We found ourselves nodding throughout the show, agreeing with Espe Brown that our Western culture as it relates to food is totally out of whack. That we, in fact, have very little relationship to our food. That we are so focused on being on the go, on saving time, that we can't even be bothered to cook anymore. As he says in the movie, when you're cooking "your hands get to be hands again". Isn't that so true.

The film's focus on simple, organic food, preparing it with gratitude and mindfulness, wasting as little as possible, and slowing down enough to enjoy the fruits of your labour - how can you argue with that?

These are great lessons to take with you outside of the kitchen and into your life - be present, be mindful, respect each other and the Earth, value yourself enough to nourish your body and spirit rather than fill your body and mind with junk, enjoy simplicity, slow down. I think its possible to change how we think about food, about the earth, about our lives and I'm enjoying watching these little pieces fall into place in our own home and family - better food, less stuff, more time together, a mindful approach to life.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fair trade fashion

The Minimalist Mom just did a great post on the real cost of cheap clothes. This has been a huge issue in our house - way too many cheap clothes, purchased on a whim only to languish in our closets unworn for years and then sheepishly stuffed in a bag and sent to live at Value Village or Goodwill.  Jay and I both have far too many clothes and are making a concerted effort to give things away and donate them. But that's only part of the problem - we need to buy less. More importantly, we need to buy less often, but higher quality. Higher quality and higher ethical standards.

Its no secret that most of what we in industrialized nations wear is made in developing countries in deplorable conditions, by people getting paid a pittance. Its shameful, and many of us pay lip service to the fact that such practices need to change, but we often feel that we have no choice. We want to stop supporting companies that don't engage in fair trade practices, but then what do we buy? Can we even afford ethically made clothing? And how do we know something really is fair trade?

After years of saying we wanted to change the way we buy clothes, Jay and I recently discussed the need to examine this issue. We really can't claim to be living a greener life if we don't at least try to change this rather large aspect of our spending. I'll admit, we feel a bit lost at this point but its something we are going to be looking into over the next little while.

Our first discovery has been clothes at MEC, a Canadian retailer with a commitment to sustainability, and we've purchased some lovely Canadian-made items for ourselves and the boys. We've been impressed with the quality and plan to make future purchases from them. Now, to find more ethical, sustainable, work-appropriate attire.

Are you mindful of where your clothes come from? Why or why not?Have you found any good-quality, work-appropriate clothing, preferably Canadian-made? Any recommendations?

Monday, October 15, 2012

I love kale, Mommy

Our journey towards a healthier, more sustainable, simpler life really began in conjunction with our parenting journey. Everyone tells you a child changes your life, and oh boy - does it ever. However, its not just the sleepless nights, the acute knowledge that this little person depends entirely on you for their very survival, or the realization that Friday nights are now often spent passed out on the couch at 9 pm from exhaustion rather than booze. For us, it highlighted the need for more conscious choices in every area of our life - how we spent our time, the food we choose to eat, the lessons we pass on to our babies.

We took on each new challenge as it came and luckily, we've been on the same page when it comes to how we want to raise our children - the examples we want to set, the way we shape how they spend their time, what we put on their plates.  It hasn't been easy - many, many people have looked at us like we're crazy because most of our choices have been somewhat unconventional. We've received criticism for everything from using cloth diapers, to sending our child to a Montessori school, to not taking him to McDonalds. By no means are we the most crunchy-granola parents - rather, we parent by instinct and common sense and eschew parenting labels and categories. However, we have done things differently than our parents did, and than many of our friends currently do. Its difficult not to wonder sometimes, are we doing this wrong? It feels right, but when others around you give you the ol' raised eyebrow and skeptical questions ("you don't give your baby baby food? You just give him, like, people food? Right away? Doesn't he CHOKE? Isn't that DANGEROUS?"), its hard not to be consumed with self-doubt.

Lately though, I've really started to see the effects of some of our choices and I'm so pleased. When my 3 year old says to me, "I LOVE kale, mommy", somehow I know that even though he will eventually eat at McDonalds and he'll have too much candy at Halloween, that the seeds have been sown for him to have a healthier life than many of his peers. He knows the names of vegetables and that they come from a garden. He watches me make yogurt and understands that it comes from milk, which comes from a cow. I can ask him to get me some basil from the garden and he knows where it is and how to pick it.  He tramps around with Jay in the garden, wearing his galoshes and begging to help water the plants, harvest the food, clean up the garden for the upcoming winter. He's proud when the food he helped grow and pick shows up on his plate. I believe this is why he is willing to try new tastes and flavors, even though he won't care for everything.

Its so gratifying to watch him grow up this way and to know that we've played a part in shaping his world-view. That we've filled his little body with good food and the knowledge that a healthy diet will make him grow strong. That not only has my choice to work outside of the home and send him to a Montessori school not damaged him, its helped him to thrive and develop a love of learning. By no means do we have this parenting gig figured out, and we certainly don't think our way is the "right" way for everyone. On the contrary, there are an infinite number of ways to parent. We are just so happy to see the connections our big little guy is making, particularly in understanding nature, food and the environment, and at the end of the day its nice to feel that you're doing something right. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Earthship featured in the Globe and Mail

Earthship article

Jay and I were so excited to read this article today in the Globe and Mail, featuring a couple just a few hours from us who are building their Earthship with their own two hands. Its so amazing to see this form of sustainable building flourishing in Canada and we hope to join the ranks of those who've built their own Earthship in a few short years!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's coming along..

Five months post-move, and the dust is finally beginning to settle. Literally, some weeks. (Two kids is buuuusy). I am so proud of how much we've been able to simplify; we've gotten rid of so much excess in the last few months. Although we still have a long way to go, I'm happy to be living with less (still too much, but less than before) and our environment is more peaceful because of it.

Here's what we've done so far:

 Reorganized and streamlined the pantry. 

In an effort to get rid of food we don't often use, and also in a bid to improve our health, I recently gave away a ton of pantry items to friends and family who can put them to better use.

Held a garage sale.

It wasn't a total flop but we didn't exactly make a killing, either. We did get rid of a few things and Jay took the rest directly to Value Village. You can almost see the garage floor now!

Cleaned out the closets.

It was a ruthless cull, and it continues. I try to re-evaluate each item that I come across in my wardrobe and be brutally honest about its usefulness. If I haven't worn it the next time I come across it, I donate it. I think this ongoing process is important - there's so many things I've hung on to the first time I went through the closet that I look at again later and realize its not actually that important to me.

Organized toys and started a toy rotation.

We reorganized our playroom storage so that the room itself is much less cluttered. There's more play space and less "stuff" cluttering it. There are three large bins in the garage with toys that weren't seeing any action. In a few months, I'll rotate a few items in and some out - whatever doesn't get use then will be donated.

Ruthlessly reduced the baby clothes collection.

We are still undecided about having a third baby, so we decided to keep our favorite items and sell or donate the rest. The clothes that our older son has outgrown are in labelled containers in the closet under the stairs - I allocated one bin per size and that was it. Everything else had to go. You'd be shocked to see how much we had, I know I was.

Despite still having way, way too much stuff, I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Its much easier to clean and stay organized and this house is really starting to feel like our home. I love the feeling of peace that comes from a decluttered space. And now the challenge is to keep it this way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Urban vs. Rural Sustainability

Jay sent me an interesting article the other day written by Toby Hemenway, a well-known permaculture activist, in which he discusses his choice to live in an urban vs. rural environment and how it relates to sustainability. He argues that urban dwellers might actually fare better in the event of disaster compared to their rural counterparts.

Check it out, definitely worth a read.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Adventures in Yogurt Making

In attempting to scale back on grocery costs I decided to look into making some of our weekly staples from scratch. Yes, we already make our own salad dressings, pasta sauces, and chicken or vegetable stock. However, a significant amount of money was going towards the costs of yogurt - between the three of us, we would go through at least 4 big containers a week. At approximately $3 a container, thats a good $50 a month spent on something made quite easily at home.

Now, I could have been extra adventurous and made some from scratch, but I decided to go easy on myself and buy a yogurt maker second-hand from a friend. For a quick and easy $20, I was able to get one in great condition.

Now, I buy bags of homo milk (approximately $6 for 3) and use 1 cup of yogurt from the previous batch as a starter culture. One bag of milk makes 6 small containers of yogurt (about 1.5 servings per container). I make two batches of yogurt a week, costing approximately $4 in total, a savings of $8 a week.

Its good yogurt and its fun involving the little guy in the process.

Someday soon I would like to try making it from scratch but for now, this is an easy way to save some money on groceries as well as cutting down on packing and waste.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Giving Less - updated

The little guy had his birthday this past weekend, and I was really proud of our restraint when it came to gift-giving. As I suspected, having fewer gifts did nothing to diminish the special-ness of his day and it made me feel good to buy fewer, more meaningful gifts for him.

As mentioned before, we followed the Want Need Wear Read guideline for gift giving, and it served us well.  Here is what we came up with


I am quite sure this kid loves diggers more than air. He does have a ton of small construction trucks and equipment that he plays with frequently, but Jay came up with a really fun idea:


Clearly, he now needed somewhere to dig. So Jay came through with flying colours, building him a sandbox under the little deck attached to our pool. It was perfect - small, shaded, easily visible from the house.


In a classic lame-mom move, I bought him underwear. Whatever. He needed it.


Everyone loves Dr. Seuss and we love the message of this book, promoting citizenship and environmental responsibility.

Happy to report each present was a resounding success. Except for the underwear. Whatever.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reigning in the spending - groceries

Now that we are finally getting settled in the new house and have distributed the profits from the move towards paying off some debt, its time to get started on reigning in the spending. Like most families, we have a rough budget in mind but I think that's the only place the budget really exists - in our minds! We are fortunate to have good incomes and therefore not have to live paycheck to paycheck, however we are spenders rather than savers and we've made some poor choices in the past. We'd like to change that.

Step one was signing up for a budgeting program online - I chose and so far, I really like it. Its linked to our accounts and does most of the work for me, which is good (I'm lazy and will find any excuse NOT to review our accounts and budget). Another benefit of this program is there's no lying, excuses or fudging - what you've spent is right there in front of you in black and white. And oh boy, there are some surprises to be found.

Groceries are an important part of our budget - we like to eat well, and we like to eat healthy. Couponing has never held much appeal for us as we don't seem to buy most of the products that have coupons. I don't mind spending a good chunk of money on quality food as I believe there are other costs to what you eat beyond your grocery bill - namely your health.  However, I was shocked at the amount we spent this month on groceries - $1500. YIKES. My imaginary budget was about $650.

So how did this get away from me? Part of the problem is that we do our shopping in a few places, namely the farmers market, a typical grocery store, a butcher, Costco, a bulk food store and an organic food co-op. Without keeping track of how much of our weekly budget has been spent in each place, its easy for the costs to spiral out of control. I'm pretty good at sticking to a list but there are times where I"ll buy things on a whim. And, to be honest, I'm not one to look at prices - I buy the best quality I can find because I think its worth it.

So, how to stick to a budget while still eating the healthy foods that are important to us? I have some work ahead of me, so here's my plan:

1. Research prices - if one of us is unable to volunteer one week for the co-op (a condition of membership), I might end up purchasing the items at the bulk store or even the grocery store. To be honest, I'm unsure of how much the prices differ between these options and I need to have a better idea of how much I'm paying at each place.

2. Set a realistic budget - clearly, I'm way off base with my expectations. We are about to add another mouth to the mix, and if kid #1 is any indication, I may as well budget for a grown man right from the get-go.

3. Get creative - I've thought about making my own yogurt for awhile and I definitely need to start making my own chicken stock rather than buying cartons of pre-made stuff. I'm sure there are other ways I can save by not choosing the easiest route.

Ways we already save money?

1. Toiletries (ok these aren't really groceries, but many people  buy them with their groceries) - I use apple cider vinegar for astringent, oatmeal soap from the bulk store, coconut oil for moisturizer and we get our toothpaste from the co-op.

2. No junk or processed food - we don't buy pop, chips, pre-made convenience foods and very little juice.

3. No pre-cut items - we don't buy broccoli florets, cubes of cheese, etc.

I have my work cut out for me, that's for sure. I'll report back when I've devised a new, more realistic budget and a plan for sticking to it!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Giving less

image courtesy of apartment

Its not a new idea, but I like it. The idea of giving LESS but more meaningful gifts really resonates with me, particularly as it relates to kids. About 6 times a day I give the hairy eyeball to our toy area, brimming with half-forgotten items and mismatched toys, despite several trips to Value Village already to donate things.  I know that our oldest son, about to turn 3, is only even aware of a small fraction of his toy collection. I worry because I want him to value his stuff, and take care of it. Moreover, he definitely gravitates towards books and simpler toys, ones that require his own imagination, rather than flashy, trendy toys.

 We have the fortunate "problem" of being blessed with a number of generous relatives, so the idea of ourselves giving him more and more and more stuff on his birthday and at Christmas makes me uneasy. I'd rather pare it down to 4 gifts - something he wants, something he needs, something he'll wear and something to read. He's so young that I think he'll make the transition to a more minimal celebration quite well. And we'll feel good knowing we're not adding to the pile of stuff in the toy corner that taunts me on a daily basis.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paid in cash

We bought a new car, and we paid for it in cash.

So what, you may ask? And I'll be honest, its a "new-to-us" car rather than a brand new one, but this is a big deal for us. We have a good family income, but previous debts from our school years and from some foolish spending in our early 20s have been haunting us for awhile. The debt cycle is a vicious one and we often found ourselves paying off one debt and immediately incurring another, foolishly paying interest every month, and lamenting the amount of money we bled towards debt repayment that could have been used for savings or vacations.

A key factor in the decision to sell our bigger house and buy a smaller one was to facilitate the repayment of these debts. We were able to pay off a few of them and increase our payments towards the remainder. We were also able to buy what we needed for the new house in cash, as well as this car.

It feels great.

So good, in fact, that its bolstered our resolve to continue this path of decreasing the "stuff" in our life, buying less, saving more, and getting rid of that debt. Its a short-term goal now, rather than something we hope to do down the road. We have to be mindful of how easy it is to fall back into the credit trap - throwing something on the credit card because we feel we "need" it RIGHT NOW, promising ourselves to pay it off immediately, and instead just paying minimum amounts while we spend the money on other stuff. Yuck. No desire to go down that road again, so for now we'll be proud of this accomplishment and pledge to continue down this path of financial responsibility.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mmmmm...Coconut oil

Its funny to think back a few years and realize how far we've come in our quest to live a healthier life, particularly in the area of beauty and self-care products. Our home used to be filled with scented candles and room spray, and my makeup bag contained beauty products that met two criteria: cheap, and pretty-smelling. Six years ago, I broke into hives after putting on the body lotion I'd been using for ages and over time, I started reacting to pretty much every product I tried.  I went through the usual suspects at the drugstore, ventured into higher end beauty stores and gawked at the prices, and tried small, independent retailers of "natural" products. Some were far too expensive, some filled with noxious chemicals despite their "natural" labels, and some just didn't do the job. I was frustrated, rash-y and annoyed. Until this:

Jay was the one who finally found coconut oil and holy cow, I had a solution. THE best moisturizer, hair conditioner, lip balm, eye makeup remover that I've found and it was really natural, not just labelled as such, inexpensive and as an added bonus, can be used for cooking.

 I realized that I'd been approaching my search for the perfect products in the wrong way- it had never occurred to me to look back to nature. I'd been sucked in by shrewd marketing and thought I'd need to spend bazillions of dollars to get what I needed. How silly is that? It just shows how powerful the beauty industry is and I'm so happy to be on the road to finding a better, more natural way to take care of myself. Its not an easy process, to be sure, and I'd be lying if I said that my makeup bag had no harmful products in it all, but I'm on my way and at the very least, our family is committed to finding the least harmful ways to take care of ourselves. 

So. Coconut oil. Best thing ever. 

And also, olive oil for baby massages and castor oil for massaging gassy babies' tummies.  Don't let anyone tell you that you NEED fancy packaging and pretty labels and ingredients you can't pronounce. Don't get sucked in to the idea that everything has to come out of a lab when there's plenty available in nature that will do an even better job. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's growing right now

Our raised bed
I cannot claim to be the brains nor the brawn behind our garden - the credit for that must go to Jay, who got our family started on this crazy journey in the first place. Gardening has developed from a seasonal hobby for Jay to an increasingly essential aspect of our life and the basis for our future plans. I'll be doing my best to share what's growing in our garden this season and what we do with our crops, but all difficult questions will be referred to Jay, the only one of the two of us who really knows what they're doing.

While enjoying a glass of vino tonight on the deck and admiring the green sprouting up around us, I asked Jay how he decided what to plant this year and I got a great tour of our little garden. I just love walking around and looking at all the life (and the food!) that exists right outside our door. As John from Growing Your Greens says, lawns are dumb - grow your own food instead. We are well on our way to making our backyard functional and productive as well as beautiful.

See what happens when you let things grow instead of just keeping lawn?
A key aspect of how Jay chose to organize the garden this year was mixing insecting plants, those that support beneficial insects, with our regular garden staples. By mixing certain flowering plants with veggies, the beneficial insects can prey on those that aren't quite as welcome.

Bachelor Buttons (with some basil in the background)

Some of our insecting plants:

- Bachelor Buttons

- Wormwood

- Peony

- Wallflower

- Butterfly bush

We mixed these with vegetables such as kale, brussel sprouts, cukes, squash, tomatoes (currant and roma, among others), basil and collard greens. Can't wait to start cooking with all this yummy food!


Friday, July 13, 2012



We've been offline and out of touch these last few weeks, first up north at my in-laws cabin, enjoying splashing in the lake, blueberry picking, sleeping in a trailer, catching fish and frogs and breathing in the clear northern air. And then trying to recover and unpack. Which is less fun.

We take off again tomorrow, this time to my dad's little island in cottage country where we'll sleep in a yurt, roast marshmallows over a fire, splash in the lake and soak in the sun. We'll also enjoy some delicious food - fresh fruits and veggies from the farmers market, delicious steaks cooked on the grill, and the world's best butter tarts from a cafe not too far from the island. I just love coming together as a family, filling our bellies with delicious, healthful foods and chatting about life.

On that note, I leave you with a quote by Michael Pollan “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” 

Enjoy a healthy, delicious meal with family and friends this weekend!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scaling back


We honestly didn't realize how much stuff we had.

Take two somewhat impulsive shoppers with a hankering for a good deal, a few stuff-intensive hobbies, a really handy hubby who has a LOT of tools, and a couple of kids and you have...... way too much crap.

I knew we were in trouble when we moved to a 3000 sq foot home and still had stuff everywhere. When Jay's clothes still had to be stuffed into his closet and dresser, despite all the space. When R had enough toys to fill up a bedroom, a playroom and part of the family room.  When we had to store kitchen stuff in the basement because our huge kitchen still didn't have enough storage space.  For months I devised new organizational tools and storage solutions. We just need another bookcase, another set of shelves, more rubbermaid containers and a better system. At some point last fall, I looked around, exhausted from constantly organizing, cleaning, and storing.

We have too much stuff.

That was the problem. Not a lack of shelves, or drawers, or handy dandy organizational systems. We just have too much. We buy too much, we hang on to things too long, we falsely convince ourselves we need all this stuff. We don't need it. Not all of it, anyway.

As the plan to move and set ourselves up to build our dream home started to take shape, we realized the life we were heading for was much simpler than our current one. There just wouldn't be room for all this stuff. I suddenly felt free. And slightly panicked, and very ruthless. Jay and I discussed it and agreed we'd need to get rid of a good chunk of our stuff. As we prepared to list the house, I went through every room and tried to make an honest evaluation of its contents. Anything we hadn't used in the last 18 months (since our previous move) was out. Several bags went to Value Village for donation. We hired packers but still, I tried to go through each room periodically and toss/donate what wasn't useful to us.

Through another blog that I absolutely adore, I discovered Minimalist Mom and Simple Mom, two blogs which inspired me to continue scaling back. Reading about these moms' journeys to minimalism and simplicity made me feel...peaceful. The idea of living intentionally, free from the shackles of a constant consume-waste-consume cycle, really resonated with me and I've continued to sell and donate what we don't need even after the move was complete.

I wish I could say this process has been streamlined and systematic, but alas, there's nothing streamlined about me these days, not with a three month old in tow all the time! While the process hasn't been perfect, the idea remains powerful: buy less, consume less, live with less. I really do think our life will be richer if we maintain this as our mantra.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Green(er) Parenting - Cloth Diapers (part two)

Ok, you've decided on a type of cloth diapers. Welcome to the wonderful world of fabric poo receptacles! Its an exciting place. Promise!

Now the question becomes, what the heck do I do with these things? This post will cover some tips on how to store your clean and dirty diapers, washing and drying them and cloth diapering on-the-go.

1. Storage

Everyone will have their own system for keeping clean diapers and storing used ones. This is just our system and what works for us. Feel free to alter the process as you see fit.

Clean diapers are stored in the top drawer of E's dresser in theseOne compartment houses the prefolds/fitteds and one houses the covers and swim diapers. A third houses the cloth wipes we use, but more on those later.

Once used, we simply toss the diaper (and the cover, if soiled as well) into a drawstring bag, similar to this one which is kept in a plastic garbage bin with a lid in E's room. No, it does not stink. Unless you open the bag, in which case helloooo ammonia! Every few days, we bring the bag down to the laundry room, shake the diapers into the washer and toss the bag right in there with them.  Our second storage spot for used diapers is in the laundry room, for when we change E on the main floor or in the basement. We have one of these hanging on the doorknob of the laundry room. It too, can go right in the wash with the diapers.

2. Cloth wipes

Although it may seem easier to use disposable wipes - you are, after all, already doing so well by using cloth diapers - once you make the leap to cloth diapers, it actually makes more sense to also use cloth wipes. This way, the wipes can be folded into the dirty diaper and thrown into the wet bag for washing later. Much easier than picking a used disposable wipe out of the diaper and putting it in the garbage. Try Etsy for some cute pre-made cloth wipes, make your own with a serger and fabric, or simply use baby face cloths. For wipe solution, we have a spray bottle on the dresser with warm water, tea tree oil and a bit of baby shampoo. There are several recipes out there for wipe solution - feel free to choose whatever suits you.

3. Washing and Drying*

How you wash your diapers will vary based on the type of machine you have. The most important points are to rinse, rinse, rinse! We generally do a rinse, followed by a heavy duty wash cycle, followed by a rinse. We use Nellies and love it. In the past, we've used Crunchy Clean and soap nuts. Many cloth diaper peeps use Rockin' Green as well. We aim to wash every 2-3 days.

The most economical and green way to dry your diapers is to line dry them. The sun also helps to sanitize and bleach any stains that may have accumulated. It takes longer but David Suzuki, the trees, and your wallet will thank you.

*Note: we use wool covers at night over our fitted diapers. Unless you'd like a cute little teensy-weensy wool cover, do NOT put your wool in the wash. Jay has found this out the hard way. Twice. Wool has its own set of care instructions and in fact, you only need to wash the covers when they start to smell or leak.

4. On-the-go

While some people prefer to use disposables on the go, I'm here to tell you that yes, it is possible to use cloth while out and about and even while travelling! If we are headed out for less than half a day, I generally bring one cover, three prefolds and a small wetbag with me along with wipes. You can even use cloth wipes soaked in your cleaning solution and kept in a disposable wipes container! The wetbag keeps the stink out of your purse or diaper bag and it all goes in the wash together. No harder than disposables and no one knows you're walking around with poop in your bag. For day trips I'll bring a few extra prefolds and another cover. For more than two days, we bring the whole stash and our large wet bag.

There's so much more that can be said about cloth diapering and others do a much better job of explaining it all. Check out some of these great cloth diapering resources:

Happy diapering!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Green(er) parenting - cloth diapers (part 1)

When embarking on the adventure that is parenthood, one quickly realizes that a whole new world of decisions lay before you.  Will you co-sleep or put baby in a crib from day one? Breastfeed or formula-feed? Use a stroller or a carrier? Which ones? The choices can be overwhelming!

A big choice for many new parents was really a very easy choice for us - we chose to use cloth diapers. We had friends who had used them and said it really wasn't all that hard, the money savings was huge, and the idea of creating much less waste was attractive as well. Little did we know, its just not that simple - there's a myriad of choices out there in cloth diaper-land and we went through several options before settling on a good system.

Here is a good guide to the various types of cloth diapers, so you know what the heck I'm talking about in this post.

We started out with AIOs (all-in-ones) gifted to us by friends. They were easy as pie - terry cloth interior with a waterproof outside layer. They had snaps that adjusted the size of the diaper and they were as easy as disposables to use. Big con - they took forever to dry. In order to be really "green" when it comes to diaper-ing, its a good idea to hang your diapers to dry rather than use a dryer. These diapers took prohibitively long to dry when hung. At least we thought so. This particular brand also didn't seem to fit our first son perfectly so we had some leaks.

Next, we tried a hybrid diaper that had a cloth shell and compostable inserts. These were not our favourites, although I do know many people who love them. We had a lot of leaks, the covers would get messy with poop all the time and when I was out and about, there was often no compost to put the inserts in. These got sold pretty fast.

Following that fiasco, we moved on to pocket diapers. Similar to the AIO but they have a small opening inside the diaper for an insert (often microfibre, fleece or bamboo).  Amongst my friends who used cloth, these were the most popular. Again, there were a billion choices - snaps vs. velcro, microfibre vs. bamboo inserts. These diapers can be expensive, but there are some "knock-off" brands that are much, much cheaper and still do the same job. These diapers were easy to use - I'd pre-stuff the inserts into the shell so changes were simple and quick. Grandparents and daycare found these diapers easy to use. The only real con was having to reach into the pocket and pull out the insert - jamming your hand into a used diaper that's been festering all day at daycare = not my idea of a party. That said, these were the diapers we used with our first son all the way through until potty training. 

Unfortunately, a new daycare teacher + a generous slathering of Penaten = a bunch of wrecked diapers. So, we needed to re-stock before our second son was born, and I decided to try something new. For the newborn days, when babe is often too small for a one-size pocket diaper, fitted diapers with covers (like an AIO but in two parts) or prefolds (just a flat piece of layered cotton) with covers are a popular choice. We decided to try these options out and if we loved them, we'd order bigger sizes as E grew.

Bingo. We love them.

Our current system is prefolds with PUL covers during the day and fitted diapers with wool covers at night. In our opinion, these are just as easy, if not easier, than pocket diapers and there's no yucky insert to reach in and grab. Leaks are not an issue at all. The wool covers are amazing - they're breathable, they only need washing/re-lanolizing every few weeks, and E's bum is rash free (unless we get behind on laundry and put him in a disposable). My generous aunt knit a few for me and they are worth their weight in gold, particularly because they can be expensive to buy.

Our overall impression of cloth diapering? It really is easier than most people think it is. I hear a lot of naysayers proclaim "its too hard" and "I don't have time". To that I say, do you wear disposable clothing? Is it too hard to launder your clothes? Do you really not have time for maybe two more loads a week? I think if most people were honest with themselves, they'd find that they do have the time and it isn't that hard. Truly, if people gave cloth diapering a shot, I think they'd find it isn't as difficult as they perceive it to be. The other main complaint is that its "too gross". Well yes, poop is gross. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who would disagree. But there are ways to set up your system to have minimal contact with said poop and to lower the "yuck" factor. From an environmental perspective, there really is no other choice. The amount of waste produced by disposables, nevermind the associated health concerns , makes using cloth the best option, in my opinion. Which of course, anyone is entitled to disagree with.

So, that's our experience with cloth diapers.  I'll share our system for storing and washing/drying them in another post. The brands we use can be found here, here and here

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

All the world's problems can be solved in a garden

" All the world's problems can be solved in a garden" - Geoff Lawton

It's true. A garden is a source of food, a way to battle pollution, a gratifying way to spend your time, a way to combat high food prices, a teaching tool for toddlers. We are so happy to have started our garden in our new backyard.

Jay has been hard at work for months; buying and starting seeds, planning the layout, building the raised beds. In the last few days, we've finally started planting. Its late, to be sure, but a newborn, a toddler and moving houses are all big hits to our productivity level these days!

Luckily, R has been a happy helper and his planting skills are pretty awesome for a 2 1/2 year old. The onions he and Jay planted last week are starting to sprout and the joy in his eyes when he saw the tiny bursts of green in the soil for the first time, and the pride on his face when we told him "you did that!" was amazing to see. He's a diligent little worker - he puts on his most serious face when planting and covering up the seeds with soil. Fiercely independent, its always a challenge to get him to follow instructions, but he's so smart and capable. There's so much for him to learn in this process.

We worked yesterday evening until the last light and although rushed, it was so gratifying to know that this garden will soon sustain us and fill our bellies. We'll have blackberries, carrots, beans, onions, kale, and so much more. More in another post on the process of planning the garden itself.


Welcome to our Little Grey House. Its just a little blog about our little house in the suburbs and our goal of living a simpler, more sustainable life. Follow along as we document our journey towards a greener, more self-sufficient future.