Monthly Archives: April 2013

Soft or Hard? Soft and Hard!

I see the world recycling all their plastics, hard and soft

When I moved back to Canada from Italy, I was pleased to see blue boxes on the street on Garbage Day.  In Italy we had to walk about a block or two down the road and dump our recycling into a special bin and similarly carry our garbage into another bin.  The effort was often worthy of locally-made gelato (5 in our neighborhood).  Here in Canada the City actually picks up garbage and recycling if we bring it to the curb.  Garbage and Recycling!!!  Picked up!!!  Like having a tiramisu and eating it too!   I was even more thrilled when my friend Lisa told me about soft plastics and foil-lined plastics recycling run by Pacific Mobile Recycling

Soft plastics!  Wow now that is cool . So, in Victoria at least, we can recycle *everything*.  Every bit of saran wap, every foil-lined cereal bar wrapper.  Here is a photo of a few months worth of our foil and soft plastics recycling this weekend at a Mobil Recycling Station:


Dave and Marilyn, below, volunteers from the Oak Bay Green Committee helped me sort it into 1) foil wrappers (not to be confused with tin foil) 2) styrofoam 3) hard plastics that dont have the recycling numbers 1-7.

Dave and Marilyn oak bay green

David and Marilyn are awesome folks, and said how they never really dreamed of having fun sorting through other people’s trash.  We were having a great time.  However, they would like to put themselves out of a job, and have the city collect all types of plastic for recycling.  I am struck by how vibrant and nice looking all this waste is.   So pretty and colorful like candy, Dave agreed in his South London accent  (Does it get any better? We too used to live in South London!).  “The weird thing,” he said, “Is that the food, the brown dirty stuff is actually breaking down.”  Plastic can poison if-and-when it breaks down, not to mention what it does to animals who ingest it.  So if your average household refuse looks pretty and nice and colorful that is not great for the Earth.  Paradoxically, if it looks brown and smelly, slimy  and dirty –  that’s a good thing….

We want to put that good brown stuff back into the Earth and leave out the plastics.  A line from my grandfather’s song, “This Earth is Ours” mentions his “good, red soil”.  Good soil is made up of organic matter.  For some shots of sexy-looking soil, check out This Earth is Ours video:

Let’s leave the soil rich and fertile, organic and nutrient-rich.  Let’s put Dave and Marilyn out of a job and ask our Cities to collect and recycle it all, soft and hard.

Microwaved Water to Plants Experiment – Day 1

I see a world where people verify facts for themselves.

My dad Arran read an article years back about how plants watered with microwaved water die.  He hasn’t used a microwave since.  I cringe at the idea of having to heat everything up in a pan or pot and then wash it (versus the quick microwave zap).  I also kind-of-don’t-really-want to know since I used microwaves so many a time in the middle of the night when my baby daughter was screaming for milk.  Dont want to think that maybe I’ve been slowly poisoning my developing children.  Everyone uses microwaves, right?  It’s just easier to dismiss what dad said.  Well, about a year ago, I came across this again.  It’s been ruminating.  Eventually, I started to talk to my daughters about this and we agreed that we should experiment.

We are attempting a very simple and not-truly scientific test.  My statistics friends, especially Michael Greenacre would cringe at this.  What, a sample size of two?!

Day 0 the set up

The set up

I haven’t googled this at all but I figure that if there is such a terribly strong effect, I should see it right away.  I don’t want to have to use p values to determine whether there is an effect.  There should be a clear answer like the squirrels who eat all the organic corn but leave most of the GMO kernels on the cob.  Last night  I bought two basil plants which were next to each other at the only store open on a Sunday night in Victoria.  They looked healthy and hearty.   They are now set up in the kitchen in a sunny spot.  We took a glass of water and microwaved it for a minute, and let it sit overnight.  We put an identical glass of tap water to sit overnight.

This morning with the help of my one-armed assistant (the other arm is in a sling as she fell off the monkey-bars about a month ago), we watered the plants.

Day 1 watering plant 1 with Microwaved water

Day 1, watering plant 2 with tap water

We will do so until we see some kind of difference and will post about this.

To sort of appease any of you scientists upset at my small sample size, please have a listen to the SVD song.


Bangladesh – Fast Fashion Blues

I see a world where fairness supersedes profits.

Suffering is in my heart as I read about the senseless deaths in Bangladesh.

Now, it may seem so far from where we all are

It’s something we can’t reject That suffering, I can’t neglect …

– George Harrison  from the protest song “Bangladesh”, 1970

I am biting back many bitter and angry words right now about the Bangladesh Building Collapse. The G-rated version boils down to: If workers were cared for and their concerns about a crumbling building were addressed, this would not have happened.  If people weren’t so interested in buying cheaply made clothes this might not have happened.  I lament for those souls sacrificed at the altar of greed.  I marvel at the woman who gave birth in the rubble.  I wish for a better future for them and us all.  I wish to turn that pain into productive thoughts and actions.

We have begun to embrace Fair-Trade coffee and chocolate.  Now how about Fair-Trade clothes?  Where workers are given the right to work in clean, safe buildings that are regularly subjected to safety and fire drills?  Why is fast food unacceptable but fast fashion is extolled?  Why should a fancy coffee cost more than a tee-shirt?

What step forward can we take to unwind this conundrum?  What changes in the right direction can we make?  There are the band-aid solutions and then there are the steps to make towards real change.  For the band-aid solutions: give aid, hold perpetrators accountable for lax and insufficient standards.

For the long-term, I would like to bring up again the Stephens Sisters’ shopping Diet (the SSSD). If you love to shop, this will not limit your shopping enjoyment, but greatly enhance it.  The SSSD: Whatever you buy, it must be one or more of the following categories: Local, Organic, Sustainable, Second Hand, or Fair-Trade.  If you can’t find local, then buy from a country with a stellar social and environmental record.  Buy Quality so that you don’t have to shop as much  to replace your stuff as often.

The more categories you check, the better.  Instead of looking only at the price tag, see beyond to the hidden costs (people and the Earth) and pay the fair price.  When you look at prices at the supermarket or clothing store and automatically reach for the cheapest, stop and ask yourself:  Is it really the cheapest?  Who and what am I supporting with my purchase?  Do the companies I support give back?  Can I spend a little more and support a company that is doing the right thing by people and our planet?

Stop and look at your clothes.   Where did you buy them?  When did you buy them?  In what country were they made?

Today I am wearing Canadian-made black, bootcut, mid rise Second Yoga jeans, a locally made shirt from Shop Coccoon in Cambie St village 3 years old (took out the itchy tag so can’t provide the brand), socks from recycled wool (from Leka in Victoria), boots i bought when I lived in Florence over 9 years ago (they are scruffy but I love them like an old friend), a hand-me-down Sweater from my mom, and a Coat I bought in Italy 8 years ago.  My bag is vintage LV from the late 1990s.  I wear it every day.  It looks almost-new because it’s designed to last.  When a strap breaks I get it fixed.  Shopping the SS Diet can be enormously fun and rewarding.  I challenge you to try the diet for your next clothing purchase.   Share pictures and stories here and on social media.

You work hard for your money.  When you exchange that money for goods, make your dollar, pound, peso, euro…  speak for you.  If you don’t have time to write to organize protests,  encourage with your dollars, boycott with your money.   Focus on the positive, support fair fashion and fair trade. Try to ignore advertising (it’s hard I know) which tells you to buy what you don’t need.  Instead, search out the truth in yourself.

You are not alone.  I am there with you.  Let’s draw strength from each other and create a more righteous world –  one fairly-made garment at a time!

Uncle Godfrey’s Guernica

I wish everybody gets into the flow and lets their crazy out, like my Uncle Godfrey in this video.

Godfrey Stephens and his art are subjects worth several novels, art books, documentaries, exhibitions, videos, therapy sessions and blogs.  With all those pent-up words, I am paradoxically unsure of how to begin to describe him to you.  I think I wont try just now.   Uncle G has been an inspiration to me through his art- his paintings and sculpture speak volumes, whispering conundrums yelling outrages, and undulating beauty.  In an earlier post I mentioned having written a few unpublished books.   My most recent work-in-progress is a coffee table book about Godfrey’s art titled “Wood Storms and Raging Canvass”.

Keeping with the theme of this blog of inspiring change, Godfrey became a pacifist in his youth.  In recent years, he smashed and arc-welded hundreds of guns and swords into this amazing sculpture pictured below.  A work in progress, this huge piece changes radically every few months.  It is a peaceful protest piece, Godfrey’s equivalent to Picasso’s Guernica.  It wears several titles including “Nunka Mas”, “Never More War” and “The Anti-War Hole.”


May 2012 photo


This is how the sculpture looked like about a year ago. From a distance, you can make out the “Sisutil” or Sea Serpent in Chinook West Talk. Hidden on the other side, spiralling in a double helix is an ancient Greek dolphin.

Garth Woodworth

Photo of bent and smashed chains, guns, swords. Photo by Garth Woodworth

6 Guns garth woodworth

Close up of Nunka Mas, sprinkled with dew. Photo by Garth Woodworth

I remember that the original title of this piece was “Turning Swords into Ploughshares”.  May we turn weapons into art.  May those factories where bombs were built and now pesticides are produced be turned back into fallow fields, sown with organic nitrogen-fixing alfalfa, teeming with insects and birds.

Let’s transform.

Let us see infinitely peaceful possibilities.


Ocean Plastic Pondering

I see a sea free of plastic.


I can think of a hundred or so uses where plastic is used to great effect in medical applications.  One that pops to mind are those bags they use for IVs.  But for every life-saving application, I can think of a million uses where plastic is gratuitous.  The plastic doll, with her plastic bags and technicolor accessories, packaged in a stiff plastic carton covered with plastic stickers and then put in yet a plastic carrier bag.  For example.


Have you heard of the continent-size plastic mass in the Pacific Ocean?  I don’t want to use this blog to dwell on the negative.  So don’t worry, I wont show you heart-breaking pictures of dissected albatrosses and baby seal guts full of plastic.  Nor will I try to freak you out and make you feel bad for using plastic.  But look at the picture below.  This is how much plastic that goes into the sea every 15 seconds.



Out to Sea – The Plastic Garbage Project just opened in the Zurich Museum of Design / Switzerland.
Photo: The central installation: Every 15 seconds this amount of plastic garbage gets released into the sea…

How to we tackle the clean up? There are several initiatives, they will be funded.  Support them.

How do we begin to even tackle the cause?  This answer is: One Straw at a Time.


Praveen Varshney started an initiative called “Down to the Last Straw”  Please look at his website and Facebook page Down to the Last Straw.


What woke me up to write this blog was being reminded that if we personally don’t address these problems, who will?  Who is responsible – if not me?  And you?  But we all need inspiration to change.  This blog is about exemplifying people and systems who are doing the right thing.  It might be about one little straw or one little non-GMO alfalfa seed.  But one small fearless step is all it takes to go forward.  Praveen’s initiative is this one small step forward.


Since liking the Down to the Last Straw on Facebook a while back, I was re-reminded about the monster floating mass of plastic.  I assumed, perhaps like you… that we heard about the problem, were upset about it and then assumed that someone fixed it because we didn’t hear so much more about it since.  Back to business as usual and the problem was taken care of and gone.  Right?  Uh…no.   Praveen’s Down to the Last Straw initiative reminded me (inconveniently, if truth be told) about the plastic problem.


Since then I was inspired to double my efforts to systematically refuse straws with drinks, disposable lids for teas I buy when travelling.  Since plastic was invented, not one piece of it has healthily and non-toxically decomposed.  Tons of it goes into the sea.  My daughters and I signed a pledge when we were at the Victoria landfill last year to not drink from disposable plastic containers.  But travelling shakes your principles.  We were thirsty and boy did we feel terrible when offered cup after disposable plastic cup of water on the plane last week. My six-year-old said, “Mom, I promised not to drink out of plastic when we were at the dump.  But I’m so thirsty”.  Surely airlines can eat some of their margins to again provide non-disposable cups.  They do so in business class….


Harry's Bar interior. Venice Italy.

Harry’s Bar interior. Venice Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Italy is a wonderful place to avoid carrying bottled water, as I informed every guest that came to visit me for the 6 years we spent living here.  Ever see one of those little nondescript Italian ‘bars’?  They are on every street corner in Italy.  They usually have a few old folks sitting at a table and a few Vogue/GQ models standing at the counter. The ‘bars’ are places to get a coffee, a drink of water, a few friendly words, cigarettes (!), a shot of grappa, bus tickets, a quick croissant or a little treat for a toddler (that the barista invariable cooes at and talks to for 5 minutes with wild hand waving).  At the counter, after saying hello to the room “Buongiorno”, you plunk down 30 euro cents and ask for a ‘bicchiere d’acqua, per favore’.  You receive a chilled or room-temperature (your choice signora) glass of water.  It isn’t a huge glass but one you can down in 3-4 average-size elegante sips.  Refreshed, 1 minute later you sashay out of the bar and onwards with your day.  What a pleasant alternative to carrying around bottles of water – Viva Italia!


If we absolutely *must* use disposable containers,  let us use ones that have a realistic chance of breaking down.  Let’s refuse that last straw, that lid, those forks, those trendy colourful toys and meaningless gadgets.  Let that awareness blossom into a deeper respect for the oceans, the sea plants, the plankton, the marine invertebrates, the fish, the birds, the sea mammals, ourselves.


My Ezderza Dress

I see a world where locally-made fashion is worn as often as big brands.  Where delicately elegant, edible white fawn lilies and native wild flowers are purposefully planted as often or more as daffodils.  I want to fast forward into a world where the bold, beautiful iconic prints of the First Nations are worn proudly by fashionistas.


Nancy Turner, ethnobotanist just sent me this photo. This beautiful plant would have grown in Nixon’s Bog near my grandparent’s “Goldstream Berry Paradise” farm on Vancouver Island.

My beautiful stylista sister Jyoti got me on a shopping diet a few years ago.  She has a green MBA, champions sustainability at Nature’s Path Foods and is my go-to person on everything ‘sustainability’.  Confronted with confusing ideas of style, disposability, fast fashion, we are encouraged to buy buy buy.  At Paris Fashion week in 2011, I spoke at length about the perils of fast fashion with Laura and Martin McCarthy of The Couturier House of Worth.  We can’t escape wanting to look good, to change our image as our body changes.  But what is the guiding principle?  How do we navigate the perilous waterfalls and rapids of consumerism?  We all need this diet.  Picking up from Jyoti’s principles, here is the Stephens’ Sister’s Shopping Diet.

The Stephens’ Sisters’ Shopping Diet:  Whatever you buy, whatever category (food, clothing, household products, furniture, plants, gifts), you must buy either local, organic or second-hand.  If you cant find something local organic or second-hand, buy something that is made from a country that’s close by, or with a stellar record for human and environmental rights.  Above all, go for quality.  That way you don’t have to replace your stuff as often.   My hubby Pascal bought a pair of Church’s shoes when we lived in London over 15 years ago.  They still look fantastic.  I will talk about washing machines on another post (hold your breath peoples – washing machines – oooh!).

When I moved back to Canada 3.5 years ago, I was disappointed at the limited, locally-made clothing offerings.  Living in Barcelona, London and Florence for thirteen years had truly and utterly spoiled me.  But little by little and with a little more help from Jyoti, we found a wonderful crop of local young BC designers *making clothes locally*.  For example Laura Bemister of Muse Clothing , David Chiang of Motherland  Stores in Victoria like Hemp and Company and Not Just Pretty are to be praised for their vision.  Jyoti and I have a few-well kept secrets on Vancouver’s best quality consignment, that I’ll share if asked very (Very) nicely.

Sorting out my style as I reacclimatized to British Columbia’s weather and fashion (Vancouver has typically ranked quite low on fashion), I was always a little sad that I couldn’t find anything First Nations inspired.   Living in Europe plenty of folks thought I was First Nation when I told them I was “part Indian from Canada”.  I have grown up with a family who loves First Nations artwork.  My Uncle Godfrey speaks native some of the Native tongues.  My grandfather’s first wife was First Nations (she died young of influenza).  I have always wanted to wear First Nations clothing.  Let me clarify, there are plenty of prints and scarves, tea-towels and t-shirts, jewellery, Cowichan sweaters and slippers that are locally, beautifully, and quality-made.  I have both given and received these items over the years.  But never something cool that made me that made me feel hip and fashionable.

Me this morning in my Edzerza Gallery dress, shoes by Trippen

 A Facebook friend liked a dress from Edzera Artworks and online Gallery  Grazie FB, this dress arrived in a little envelope yesterday and I am proudly wearing it in the photo above.  The dress itself is American Apparel made in the USA. The Shoes are Trippen made in Germany, bought in Rome about 6 or so years ago.  Trippen will repair your shoes for life. The stockings are made in Hungary, bought in Florence a few years ago.  I’ll stop there but I know you get the point.

 May each and every purchase be cherished and all the people and activities in the distribution chain leading you to the point of purchase  be honourable and honoured.  I would like to say more about the Idle No More movement, but I am not informed enough at this time.  Nevertheless, I support those who fearlessly stand up for their rights.

So I’m pretty happy this morning.  I’m looking and feeling good, supporting a chain of people and actions that I feel good about.  Plus I’m wearing this in solidarity for my First Nations friends….  May we all wake up and Idle no more.