Wednesday, May 1, 2013

So many seed trays, so little time

seed trayseed tray2seed tray3seedlings

Its been a busy few weeks (for Jay), planting all the seeds in seed trays and storing them

in small greenhouses. One sits in our family room and the other, more recently, on our

deck. R has been so excited to help his dad plant and water them and gives us daily

updates on their progress. Gardening with children is so much fun.


We are fortunate to live beside a very nice lot that’s owned by the developer who built

the homes in our subdivision. On a whim, Jay decided to ask permission to put in a garden

this summer and the developer agreed. And so we’re lucky enough to be growing food this

summer not only in our yard, but in this lot at well. I’m sure the neighborhood is wondering

what the heck is going on as Jay continues to spread out hay and woodchips, dividing the

lot into garden beds. Our biggest concern is that the lot seems to be the lunchtime hangout

for the kids from the local high school and we’re hoping not to find destroyed plants or

cigarette butts in our plants.


This year, we’ve decided to plant based on what we eat the most. Which means lots and

lots of kale and berries, as well as cucumber, tomatoes, herbs and squash, peppers,

watermelon, pumpkin, cabbage, currants, onions and gooseberries.


I can’t wait to take a basket out into the garden and gather our food for dinnerSmile

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We can do better


The recent building collapse in Bangladesh has received massive media attention and I'm sure I'm not the only one sheepishly looking around my closet, wondering if I'm contributing to the problem. As we've made an effort around here to be more mindful with our food choices, use natural cleaners whenever possible, and focus on handmade gifts rather than mass-produced ones, we've also had it in the back of our heads that sustainable clothing needs to be a priority as well. Tragedies like this one only confirm what most of us already know but don't want to confront - the vast majority of our clothes and shoes were made in factories just like the one in Bangladesh.

I've heard and read comments suggesting that boycotting companies that use sweatshops and factories with poor working conditions, low pay and unscrupulous business practice is the only recourse. Trying to find an alternative, however, is daunting and certainly not to be found in your local mall. Others say that boycotting companies such as Joe Fresh and H&M will just result in a loss of jobs for the workers and bring even greater economic difficulty to countries like Bangladesh. I can understand that perspective, but  money talks and I don't know what other act of protest will really speak to these companies.

If we really dig deep, I think its obvious that the problem lies with us. It comes down to consumption. We in the west are hell-bent on having an abundance of clothing and we like it cheap. We want to buy more every season so that we always feel in fashion. We have a very distorted idea of "need". We are so disconnected from the source of our clothing (much like our food) that we push back those feelings of unease when we see an item was made in Bangladesh, India, or other countries that employ sweatshop labor. We throw up our hands and ask what choice do we have? Where are we supposed to buy affordable, fair trade clothing without looking like a bunch of dirty hippies? I'm not excusing myself - I've been a part of the problem for many years. I like my cheap dresses and cute shoes as much as the next girl.

Maybe its the extra sensitivity I seem to possess since having kids - every story like this seems to pull me in emotionally more than it would have in the past, as I imagine mothers losing their children, kids  without parents, families living in deplorable conditions. I don't know what makes it feel different this time, but I'm really pissed off . I'm sick of ignoring the elephant in my closet. And rather than focusing on what I'm not going to do, I've decided to focus on what I can do. 

What I can do is choose to support, as much as possible, companies and stores that make a strong effort towards producing high quality, sustainable products while treating their employees fairly. I'm under no illusion that these choices will make me a "perfect" consumer but small steps are important. If everyone just made a few different choices, I think a strong message would be sent to these clothing companies.

Here are a few links to companies I have or plan to support in the future:

Global Girlfriend - I just discovered this site and I'm madly in love already. Each item was made by women in developing countries and fair traded. Moreover, a portion of each purchase goes to a seed fund and micro-loan program for women in the developing world. The items are beautiful and well-priced.

People Tree - I was so excited to find this site because many fair trade or "eco" clothing items have a less than office-appropriate look about them. One cannot live in yoga pants and t-shirts alone, although I wish I could. People Tree has some really cute dresses, skirts and tops that would be perfect for work.

MEC - Its not just for rock climbing! I love MEC for kids clothes and outerwear. I also have a few pairs of yoga pants that stack up well against my Lulus. MEC also sells Patagonia products, which rate very well on the Good Guide (see below!)

And check out the Good Guide if you're wondering how your favourite company or product stacks up. The ratings are based on criteria of health, environment and social issues.

But never forget that we don't have to live this way. We don't have to buy endlessly just because we're told to. We don't need closets and dressers stuffed full of clothing we'll likely never wear or be sick of next season. We can choose instead to buy mindfully, own less, love what we own and feel good about our choices. 

Vote with your dollar and your conscience.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

5 Random Facts + 5 Questions

The lovely Sarah at Cure for Boredom has given me a Liebster Award, for new(ish) bloggers with less than 200 followers. Thank you Sarah! (If you haven't checked out her blog, please do so. This lady is a writer by profession, and it shows)

 I am to share five things you may not know about me and then answer five questions passed on to me by Sarah:

And so, five things you may not know about me:

1. I love learning new languages. When I was 11, on summer vacation and for fun, I taught myself conversational Russian. Huge dork. Huge.

2. I have never been to any sort of Disney-related theme park. For a child of the '80s, this borders on blasphemous. What can I say, I was sorely deprived.

3. I am addicted to yoga. Completely addicted. In fact, I'm increasingly aware of the fact that for me to be happy and fit, yoga is a mandatory factor in my life.

4. I always have my toes painted.

5. I've recently been watching Ally McBeal reruns on Netflix and loving it. Its my guilty pleasure when Jay is out at his yoga class. Such an awesome, mindless way to decompress.

And now, my questions from Sarah.

1- If your kid developed a massive unibrow, when would you start plucking it?

This question made me spit out my coffee and laugh my ass off. Partly because of its originality and partly because, being part Romanian, I have struggled with my own unibrow woes. Within a few short months of my birth, I somewhat resembled Bert from Sesame Street. I started plucking in Grade 7, I believe and probably wore out a few pair of tweezers before I wrangled them into a civilized state. I then proceeded to go completely overboard, plucking them into relative obscurity, as was the fashion in the early to mid 1990s.

But I digress.

If it was really bad, I'd probably start plucking early. If it was only  moderate, then whenever said child started to notice and feel as horrified as I did with all the hair twixt the eyes.

2- What is your favourite geographic location?

I can't decide on just one. I have a few. I realize that's cheating but I don't care:
1. Hawaii - my parents lived in Hawaii when they were first married and visited many times after that. My father worked there for a few months in the late 80s and we visited him for a month in December of 1987. Despite being so long ago, I can still remember how it smelled. I can still feel the dark lava sand under my feet. I can still feel the breeze on my face from driving alongside the ocean. My childhood was peppered with Hawaiian cultural references as my father spoke the language and adopted the culture as his own.

2. Nova Scotia - I did my first degree at a university in this lovely province and from day one, I was absolutely smitten. I've been back many times to visit the amazing friends I still have there and its our dream to one day make our home in Halifax or surrounding area.

3. London, UK - my dad grew up in wartime London and while I visited many times as a child, it was our honeymoon trip in 2008 that really sealed my love for this most cosmopolitan of cities. From the amazing history housed in the art galleries and museums, to the gorgeous architecture, to the wry sense of humor and pub-loving sense of fun - this place is like a second home to me.

3- What book do you recommend most to others?

Again, another question that's so difficult to give one answer for. Lately I've been espousing the virtues of Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edguyan.

4- What's the latest life lesson you've learned?

I've honestly just now clued into how important self-care is. When I had all the time in the world (pre-kids) I took it for granted, and for the last few years I've almost totally neglected it. But over the last few weeks I've made a real effort to get more sleep, do lots of yoga, eat healthy food and drink lots of green tea (and a bit less wine) and its made a world of difference in how I feel. That, in turn, has made me a better wife and mother and continues to pay off.

5- What would you make me for dinner if I came over? (And then feel free to invite me!)

Hmmmm..I know you like healthy food. I'd probably sautee some kale with coconut oil and salt & pepper, have Jay BBQ some delicious steaks (you're pregnant, you need iron) as only he can, and make a killer salad with spinach, berries, walnuts and blue cheese topped with homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Dinner is at 6 sharp. Bring wine.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Getting maximum yield in your garden

A friend recently asked for Jay's thoughts on how to get maximum yield in her newly-built raised garden beds. Jay crafted a pretty in-depth response which I thought I'd share here, given that many of us are turning our attention to our yards as a way to get through the last few dreary weeks of winter.

Topics I’m going to cover are:

Layering & Stacking
Companion planting
Succession planting

All of which will be seen through the lens of permaculture.

Yield is conventionally thought of 2-dimensionally (Length X Width), by adding a 3rd dimension we can add significant volume to your garden. This can be referred to as “Layering”, a picture is worth a thousand words:
In your raised bed, you can start at the Shrub or Low Tree layer and work down. Just as an example,  you could start with a Currant bush, or  Siberian Pea Shrub (which fixes nitrogen in the air and enriches the soil) over Kale over bush beans (N fixer), lettuce and garlic (confuses predators) and then mix in some low Nasturtiums or Strawberries to cover the soil. A more classic example is the 4 sisters planting with Sunflowers acting as a scaffold for vining beans which fertilize the soil for squash and a native flowering plant to enhance pollination (anything with small flowers i.e. Yarrow, Dill or Coriander works well). You could also add radish to that to deter the squash borer

An approach to selecting your veggies is this companion planting chart , it isn’t complete but covers a lot of common choices. In simple terms, companion planting groups plants together that support each other as well as beneficial insectary plants.  

Perennials are a great option to incorporate into your garden as you only plant them once, they require less care once established and they help keep the soil food web in business from leaf-out to frost. Examples of edible perennials could be berry or flowering shrubs, Tree spinach, Sea Kale, Strawberries or Bush Cherries.

So we’ve explored 3D planting, now to really complicate it lets add another dimension and garden through time. This won’t require going Warp 10 around the sun or any Rocky Horror Picture Show nonsense, just a little organization. Lee Valley sells a handy chart you can adjust to your region  or you can look up something like this one, this will give you an idea of when things can go in and when they’ll be done. Now that you have that, it’s clear that there will be times, usually Spring and late Summer/Fall, where holes (opportunities) will exist in your garden. If you keep your leafy green or radish seeds handy it’s easy to just seed those in where they’ll fit. This can be taken much further but I’d like to avoid fire-hosing you with information…

Now that your gardening can go through space and time you need to know about mulch. Wood chips are great (not pine or cedar as they will inhibit growth), I use straw because it’s easy to get my hands on bales. If you’re really good, you can grow your own mulch, youtube “chop and drop” for more. What you are doing by mulching your soil is collecting dew, reducing evaporation, preventing the soil from blowing away, and keeping the soil protected from the sun which keeps worms happier and prevents your soil from getting bleached by solar irradiation. The result of all this is happier plants and less watering, not a bad deal.  

Something you may have noticed is that a number of the things I’ve mentioned have multiple uses, in permaculture lingo this is known as “stacking functions”. If you can keep that in mind when approaching gardening you’ll be surprised the number of clever ideas you can implement to save yourself time, space and money. Go back to that Currant bush, it gives you berries (awesome), photosynthesizes the whole season feeding the soil food web, grows deep roots which mine minerals and bring up water that adjacent plants will benefit from, and you can plant lettuce in its shade through the heat of the summer.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sometimes you wanna go....

I totally have the Cheers theme song running through my head as I write this post.

A few weekends ago, we took a little family road trip to a small city about 40 minutes from us to attend a country winter fair. I'd never been to this particular town but I know a few people who attended university there and I'd heard it was lovely, so I was curious to check it out.

Well, damn. Now I want to move.

Jay and I have had many, many discussions about where to live and raise our family. We are somewhat limited in that his job doesn't have much flexibility in terms of location, so we're limited to a reasonable radius around his workplace. We want some land, even just a few acres, and we don't have a few million to spend. We've been a bit discouraged when perusing MLS for land nearby - its either too far or too expensive. Add to that the fact that I'm a bit of an urban girl at heart and when Jay starts looking at properties out in the middle of nowhere, I start twitching and panicking.

Secretly, I've always wanted to find somewhere within reasonable commuting distance that offers the amenities of a city in a somewhat rural setting. Something for all of us, somewhere we could really put down roots.

I think we've found it.

It would increase Jay's commute to almost an hour but it should be easy enough for me to find work there so only one of us would have such a drive. Prices are significantly better than our current area. The city itself is small but has a ton of great shops, pubs, theatres, a university and a college and a vibrant community of ecologically-minded folks. Right up our alley. I spent half the afternoon on the MLS app on my phone, looking for our dream home.

There won't be any sudden decisions - I'm still too tired from our last move - but its certainly interesting to feel that there are some new options on the table. It was surprising to find that we felt almost immediately at home there - the perfect balance for both of us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Treasury feature!

A very popular feature on Etsy is the Treasury - its a member-curated gallery of 16 items, often with a common theme. Its an honour to have your item featured in a treasury - it means someone likes your work, and it means many more people will have a chance to see your shop.

I was so happy to find out today my flamingo painting (one of my favourite pieces!) was featured on a Treasury this week by Juli  entitled "Delicious Tones"  - check it out! Link

Please check out Juli's shop as well, she has some beautiful pieces of jewelry!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tree Frog in the shop

Just added one of my favourite 9 x 12 illustrations to the shop today. I'll be kind of sad to see him go!

Less stuff in 2013

Starting to think about this year's garden

I've mentioned a number of times my goal to reduce the amount of unnecessary "stuff" in our home, and while a trip a week to Value Village and a number of kijiji listings have helped to reduce what we have, in 2013 I'd like to focus on bringing less into our home in the first place. I'd like to challenge our family to significantly limit what we buy this year, preferably purchasing only the necessities and focusing on experiences over things.

I can't take credit for this idea - it was posted on an online forum I belong to. It was just the push I needed - misery does love company after all. Except, I don't think this challenge will be miserable at all - I predict its going to help change our perspective, ignite some creativity, and free up some money (which is never a bad thing). It is nice to have a place to post our intentions, as well as our successes and challenges. The participants have goals ranging from buying nothing but the necessary, to reducing spending, to learning how to make things rather than buying them.

I'll share my own goals for this challenge:

Homemade gifts.

I really love receiving homemade gifts, particularly for the kids. There's so much meaning to a present when you know someone put their love and their time into it. Sure, I like store-bought gifts as well - it is, after all, the thought that counts - but I really cherish what's been made especially for me. So, I'd like to pass that on. I've been working on my crocheting and sewing skills and  painting up a storm for my Etsy shop these last few months. I can't wait to put those talents to use when its gift-giving time.

Making rather than buying.

Speaking of sewing and crocheting - I think these are skills that will serve me well in this challenge. I've just made myself two infinity scarves for a grand total of $16 worth of yarn. This accessory could easily have cost me twice as much for a lower quality product. Plus, I love wearing something I made myself. We need some every day cloth napkins as we've stopped using disposable napkins and paper towel - rather than go out and buy some, I'm going to find some suitable fabric in the form of thrift store clothes and sew them myself. I'm finding it kind of fun to thrift, refashion or make things myself that I otherwise would have purchased mindlessly. 

Experiences over things.

We plan to travel in 2013 - we're going to visit family in the UK, do some camping, possibly spend a weekend away with friends. In order to do so, we'll have to funnel money towards these goals that might otherwise be spent on things. By choosing to make, fix or do without something, building up the travel savings is going to be much less painful.

While buying very little for an entire year can seem quite daunting, and its certainly not a challenge everyone wishes to take on, I'm really excited to do this. I'm not going to berate myself if I slip up, and I'm not going to force Jay to do it with me - I'm simply going to do my best. Its already going well - I've talked myself out of several purchases already in the last few weeks. So wish me luck! It won't be easy, but I will try and make it fun.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2013 Intentions

These first few weeks in January are always a time of reflection, resolutions, planning, vowing to improve ourselves. This year will be better, we declare. Those bad habits? Gone! We'll be self-actualized, fit, and stylish by March! This year is the year!

And then, of course, by February we're elbow deep reality TV, having our second glass of wine for the evening, pretending we're going to hit the gym first thing in the morning.

This is why resolutions always feel so disingenuous to me - half the time I forget I even made them by the end of January's first week. I'd certainly not be hopeful for anything better this year, as my sleep-deprived self often has trouble remembering my own name these days.  This year, I choose instead to look at the coming months and make my best effort to just live my life with intention. I'm not looking to change the world, drop 20 lbs in a month (although that would be nice) or completely re-vamp my entire lifestyle. Instead, I feel drawn to the idea of slowing down a bit, being more of an observer in my own life, savouring these precious last few months of maternity leave and gradually turning my attention to rejoining the working world.

2012 was a year of huge changes - a new baby, a move, a shift in our focus towards becoming more self-sufficient as a family. With all of the busy-ness of day-to-day life, I found myself racing through the days, trying to complete all of my to-do lists yet often procrastinating because I just felt so overwhelmed. Since November, when I started painting again, my days have found a much more natural, joyful rhythm. I've realized there are certain things in my day that make me happy:


Those quiet moments when the little one sleeps, or tucked into bed before turning out the light. I'm devouring a few books a week and lately I'm loving books that focus on real-world issues like food security and social justice.

Check this book out - what I assumed would be a how-to guide on making pickles is actually a comprehensive look at food and culture, as well as social justice and inequality. Simply amazing.

 Making things

My mom made all of her own clothes as a child and young woman. The idea that I have bought my kids' Halloween costumes so far horrifies her. Most of my family can knit the most beautiful things. A good friend of mine crochets gorgeous hats for little ones. My favourite gifts that have been given to my kids have been handmade. My generation has lost an entire set of skills, useful not just for the sake of being frugal but also for recognizing and appreciating quality. I'm trying to re-acquire some of the skills I learned in childhood - crocheting, sewing, knitting. Its great fun.


I was born to draw and paint. I could do it before I could read or write and I have no idea how - I just do it. For so long, I fought this talent of mine - it felt impractical and silly and for years I chose not to nuture it. Having children has made me realize how precious "me" time is and I don't want to waste it in front of the TV. Having my babies has also made me very much aware of who I am and I embrace all of it now, including the fact that drawing, painting, sketching - its breathing to me. Painting again has brought me such joy and even if I never sell a thing in my little Etsy shop, I take great pride in signing my name at the bottom of a piece and listing it. Its my contribution of beauty to the world. My 3 year old loves it too - he asks me each day what I painted that day and we've spent many happy hours drawing together lately.

Its important to me to cultivate these activities in my day as well as ensuring that I take care of myself and my home a little better than I have been. Throwing on a bit of lipstick in the morning makes me feel pretty and I stand a little straighter. Listening to classical music while I drink my morning coffee and the little one crawls around brings me a bit of peace. Taking an extra few minutes to straighten up, forcing myself to vacuum even though I loathe it, taking pride in this home of ours - it makes me feel like I'm taking good care of my family.

So that's what 2013 will be about for me. Slowing down and living with intention. That's all.