Sunday, 30 March 2014

Earth Hour Lessons

We cheated and used battery powered
candles because we don't trust my four
year old around open flames. 
Earth Hour may not have a big impact world wide on reducing the amount of energy consumed, and many criticize it as a useless, largely symbolic act. I like to participate by turning off the lights and not using electrically powered devices and appliances for the hour between 8:30 and 9:30 for the conversations is starts with our children, and I like the personal challenge of finding something we can do that doesn't require electricity. It makes us more appreciative of our modern conveniences, helps us to see how reliant we are upon the electrical grid, and forces us to unplug, however briefly.

We brainstorm what we can do together to pass the time. Often times we play games together, but this year I was not up to it (sad event in the family this weekend). In the end we decided that we would just talk and tell stories together.

As always, challenges like this teach us something, and here is what I learned this year:

  • It is no surprise that we are very dependent upon our electronics for entertainment, especially in the evening. We had a debate about whether it was fair to listen to music or use our smart devices because they are not drawing power from the grid at that moment (even though they are charged from the electrical grid). In the end we opted to go electronic free to be in the spirit of the event. On an unrelated note, we have a solar device charger that we have taken camping with us (to ensure we have a charged camera) that works well, and I have often thought that in an emergency situation this is a good option.

  • I feel like we cheated because I looked around and saw all the appliances we still had plugged in, such as the refrigerator, furnace, hot water heater, television, computers, clock radios, lamps, etc. It is suggested that we unplug all appliances not in immediate use, and this is a goal for us. It is awkward, however, to have to find a lamp cord and plug it into the wall in the dark, and often times convenience win out. 

  • I am surprised how hard it was for us to tell entertaining, original stories to each other. Oral story telling is a dying art and I can vouch for this listening to my girls attempts to tell a story unrelated to a movie, video game or book that they have read. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources and there is nothing wrong with building on someone else's idea, but perhaps we should do more of this. Maybe I should be modeling some stories (which I actually find difficult myself) at bedtime like we used to do when they were little. 

  • It was reaffirmed for me, yet again, how tired I am of hearing about Minecraft because my daughters are a tad obsessed with the game. I am not carte blanche against video games for kids, and I would be a hypocrite to say my kids cannot have any screen time. Everything in moderation. But it feels like it is all they talk about. I want my girls to believe that I listen to them and want to hear what they have to share, even if it isn't interesting to me; listen to them now so that they'll talk to you when they're older kind of idea. But I'm sorry to say that sometimes it sounds like verbal diarrhea.

How did you participate during Earth Hour this year?

Saturday, 29 March 2014


One of her favourite spots, watching the birds in the yard.
Today we said goodbye to one of our cats, Shiva. She was the best cat I have ever known, so loving and friendly, and she will be dearly missed.

She suffered with what seemed like a sudden and rapidly progressing illness, and this was devastating to witness. We initially hoped that her treatments were having a positive effect on her health and we felt cautiously optimistic. It was, however, not to be permanent. Over the past couple of days it became evident that her poor body was shutting down, and it was time to let go.

I have decided to write this post to help me focus on all our happy, loving memories of Shiva, to help me forget her pain and suffering.

Eighteen years ago my husband (then boyfriend) and I went to an animal shelter to adopt a kitty. I was living on my own, the first time without a roommate, and I was lonely at nights and wanted a companion to come home to and love.

My daughters often ask me to share how Shiva came into our lives and it is a favourite family story.

When I first entered the cat area of the shelter Shiva was the first cat I saw. I was drawn to her partially because of her unusual markings of a tortoise shell cat. I loved her half and half, light and dark face. She was about four or five months old and had been rescued from the streets, so she was initially very skittish and leapt out of my arms when I held her. I continued around the room, looking at some of the other cats and kittens, but every time I went to pet another cat, Shiva would meow loudly and reach her paws out of her cage, trying to swat at me. I decided that she had chosen me so there was no need to hold another cat.

When my husband and I moved in together we had a blended family of cat children, and Shiva did not take kindly to sharing a home with his cat, Polly. Over the next few years a peace, or stalemate, was achieved, but it was at this point that a new cat, Charlie (a sort of wedding present, but that’s another story), joined our family. I like to joke that we had a blended kitty family of his, hers and ours.

As we brought human children into the family Shiva went through more adjustment periods. As cats can do, she would sniff the new baby, then turn her back on me for a few days, letting me know in no uncertain terms of my deep betrayal. Of course we always reached a new normal and she was happy with the loving attention from each daughter.

My middle daughter, who we say is part cat herself,
 had a special bond with Shiva.
Perhaps tolerating the loving attention is a better way of looking at it, because she was at the receiving end of what a casual observer might see as harassment. My girls loved her, and squeezed her, and hugged her, and pulled at her, and sat on her, but she never acted aggressively toward them. In fact, she was very gentle and had a way of letting my girls know they had gone too far without hurting them.

Everyone who met Shiva remarked on how friendly and loving she was when they came to our home. When the doorbell rang she would run to the door to greet visitors and would not stop meowing or rubbing up against them until they said hello and gave her some attention. Her favourite spot to sit was up behind people’s necks on the back of chairs and couches while purring loudly. We think that in some ways she thought she was a dog or person with her decidedly uncat-like friendliness with strangers and family alike.

Family Memories of Shiva:
  • When we were driving home with Shiva for the first time and she was purring very loudly, rubbing her face up against my husband's beard. 
  • "When Shiva would sleep on my feet when I was in bed,"- my oldest daughter.
  • "When Shiva would cuddle up beside me," - my middle daughter.
  • "When Shiva wasn't sick and was purring," - my youngest daughter.

Shiva was my first daughter, my furry daughter. When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I had numerous vivid dreams that I was pregnant with Shiva. One such dream morphed into me giving birth to Shiva, then by accident kicking her off the end of the bed (where Shiva liked to sleep).

I have eighteen years of wonderful memories of our time with Shiva. She was the best cat I have ever met. I am her human mom and I am mourning her passing with my whole heart.

I love you Shiva.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Chocoholic Black Bean Brownies

I am a straight up chocoholic. If a sweet treat doesn't have chocolate, I don't see the point in having some, so I have been very intrigued by the black bean brownie recipes I have been seeing all over Pinterest and Facebook lately. I have made a pledge to try more gluten free recipes this year, not because I have gluten sensitivities, but for more general reasons like cutting back on carbs. I know that when I am cleansing I need to cut out wheat, and flours in general, so the idea of using black beans instead of a flour sounded perfect. The cherry on top was that I might get my family to eat more beans if they liked the brownies.

I am on spring break with my daughters and now that I have had sufficient time to de-stress I feel like tackling some items on my one little word "to make" list. We decided to have a home day today, which gave me the time to try making the brownies. I couldn't find a single recipe that I liked completely; some used sugar or brown sugar, others were vegan, using egg substitutes (I prefer eggs), and most called for canola oil, which I do not like using (it is a PUFA, poly-unsaturated fatty acid, read about why here). I knew I was going to have to substitute and mix & match recipes to get what I wanted, and cross my fingers everything would turn out.

I substituted coconut sugar for white and brown sugar, so feel free to use either in place of the coconut sugar. I like coconut sugar because it is low on the glycemic index and a healthier sweetener that can be used 1:1 in place of other sugars or sweeteners. However, I ran out and had to use some raw cane sugar (still sugar, but a little better because not as processed as white sugar). In place of the canola oil I used melted coconut oil, but I suppose olive oil could be used instead (it should be used only at lower temperatures).

The only unhealthy part was the chocolate chips which are a must!


  • 1 can (450 mL or 15 ounces) of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips (I may have used more)
  • 3 tbsp of coconut oil (or oil of choice)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of coconut sugar (or sweetener of choice: sugar, maple syrup, etc)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
* I try to use all organic ingredients when I have them, including vanilla extract and unsweetened cocoa. I also try to find fair trade cocoa and chocolate because of child slave labour in the chocolate farming industry.


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Some recipes blend the first three ingredients before adding the rest, but I skimmed too quickly and missed this part. As mine still turned out wonderfully I think I will stick with my mistake and declare it intentional.

  • Pour the mixture into a baking pan. I use stoneware so I do not need to coat mine with oil. I have learned, however, that if I use stoneware for baking I need to put it in the oven while I preheat it. While most people say that stoneware does not need to be preheated, I have found that it takes longer to cook and is less moist if I do not. 
  • I sprinkled many chocolate chips over the top for extra chocolatiness (I'm declaring this a word). 
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven and type of baking dish you use. A knife should come out clean when inserted. 

My daughters, aged four, seven and nine loved it and kept asking for more squares. I think they may have sneaked a few behind my back because as of tonight there are only three squares left. 

This photo was taken a half an hour after I took them out
of the oven. Yes, I would say this was a hit.

Enjoy delicious, healthy, fibre filled brownie treats fit for a chocoholic!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Happy Spring!

Yesterday was the first day of spring and here on the west coast you can see signs of it everywhere. The sun is shining, the honey bees are awake, and the flowers are bursting forth with colour.

With all the wet weather we've had here recently I haven't spent much time outside walking around my yard and observing all the changes that are occurring, so the past couple of days have been filled with delightful surprises. 

The mason bees are now outside in their
new home. 

My neighbour's beautiful rhododendron is already blooming.

Our Japanese maple in macro.

One of my favourite spring flowers, the peony, is emerging.

The name of this bush escapes me, but my
daughters think fairies live in the flowers.

I cut the grass for the first time this year. 

The Japanese maple is covered in these
reverse black and red ladybugs.

The ladybugs in macro.

The strawberries are coming back.

My garlic bed is doing very well. Excitement!

The hyacinths are blooming (and I am sneezing).

Daffodils make me happy.

My number one favourite spring flower,
lupins, have begun to grow.

The raspberries have taken over the back
of my garden.

Every year I am grateful for hardy kale, the only
vegetable from my winter garden to survive the
multiple cold snaps we had. 

Happy spring everyone! 

Kitchen Scraps Garden

It may be hard to think about starting a summer vegetable garden when the weather outside feels decidedly more like winter than the first days of spring. I live in the pacific northwest and am making plans to begin my indoor seedlings in the next week or so, but I realize that this is just a dream for some

Celery grows well in containers, making it ideal
for small space gardening.
For those of us who are itching to get their hands dirty there is a quick and easy way to begin a garden inside that can transfer to a container garden outside, on a patio or larger garden. Even if you don’t have a green thumb or desire to grow a backyard garden, there is an easy way to grow some food in containers.

Place the cut end of the celery in a bowl with
water and watch it begin to grow.
I enjoy growing food from kitchen scraps, and my favourite is celery because of how easy it is to start. Each winter I buy celery from the grocery store and save the cut ends of the plant to begin a new plant. I start my celery inside and when the weather warms up I put it outside in a larger pot. Last year I received many compliments on my flavourful and aromatic celery.

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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Felted Sweater Bag

This year I am focused on dedicating more time to making things in my life, and I hope to share at least one project that I have made each month. Last month I shared cards that I enjoy making. This month I would like to share a felted sweater bag that I recently made.

I have been seeing some very cute project bags for my knitting, like this one on Etsy (because I'm a nerd), but I have held myself back from clicking purchase because I can't justify buying what I know I can make myself. Then inspiration hit me when I was rooting around my closet for some birthday presents that I bought for my daughter (months ago and then hid so well I couldn't find them - anyone else do that?) and found a pile of old wool sweaters that I had felted to make a sweater bag like this one.

A few years ago I made fingerless gloves from the sleeves of one of the felted wool sweaters, so I decided to use the rest of the same sweater to make my first felted bag.

Felted Sweater Bag Steps:

  • Felt the wool sweater before using it. To do this, wash using warm water, then dry in the dryer. Some people repeat this process but I found once was enough. As I usually wash my clothes using cold water, I had to wait until I needed to do a warm wash before I could do this, and I didn't want to wait for another warm wash to do this again. After doing this once the sweater was significantly smaller with a nice matted felt. 
The sleeves have already been removed to make
fingerless gloves.

  • Mark what will become the handles from the shoulder to below the arm pit and around the neckline, and cut. Keep the sleeves for another project, such as the fingerless gloves that I made. 

  • Fold the cut piece in half in the opposite direction, so that the holes where the arms would be are now visible as the handles of the bag.

  • Turn the bag inside out and sew along the bottom of the sweater. To be fancy and create clean edges, sew across the seam about one inch from the edge to create a triangle shape, then cut off the edge and turn the bag right side out. 

  • You now have a new project bag. Enjoy!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Pollinator Possibilities: Mason Bees

With all of the doom and gloom surrounding honey bees and the threat to our food system, I was surprised and delighted to learn about a North American native bee, mason bees.  There are dedicated people who help and nurture mason bees year after year. In fact, I learned about them this year during a biweekly gardening session with a local chef and gardening advocate at my school. I was inspired by what I learned to attempt to nurture mason bees in my own backyard this year.

So why mason bees? What is so special about them?

Mason bees are solitary, do not live in hives, and have no worker bees or queen bees.  As such they have a very unique life cycle. In March and April, when temperatures begin to warm up and the trees begin to flower, the males begin to emerge from their cocoons. They wait nearby until the females emerge, then mate and die. The females then spend the rest of their time collecting pollen and nectar, which they use to make little pollen beds for the eggs they lay. They will create their nests in narrow holes or tubes. Once they have laid an egg, they block the tube with mud (hence “mason” bees) and prepare another pollen bed for another egg, then create another mud wall. The first eggs laid in a hole or tube are female, and the eggs laid closer to the opening of the hole are male. Isn’t that amazing that they can choose whether to lay a male or female egg? When the female has laid all her eggs she too dies, at the end of spring or early summer.

Through the summer the eggs hatch into larvae, which eat the pollen and nectar beds. The larvae develop into pupae, which in turn spin a cocoon to develop into bees. Over the winter the bees hiberate inside their cocoons, waiting until the temperature warms up enough for them to emerge, thereby starting the whole cycle again.

The first thing that sold me on mason bees is that they do not sting.  In fact, you may have seen a mason bee without realizing it as they appear more like a fly than a bee. 

Mason bee cocoons: the two larger ones are female.

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