Royal Birthday

I love birthdays.

I love wishing facebook friends and acquaintances Happy Birthday. Even people I’ve never met, I like to wish them happy birthday.  I love singing happy birthday for strangers in restaurants.  (I love singing). In fact, I just got back from singing “God Save the Queen” along with a largely British commonwealth crowd. In England. At Windsor castle. At Her Royal Majesty’s 90th birthday celebration!  It was epic. Gosh darn, I even teared up whilst singing.

I just love that song.  It’s the first song I ever learned in grade school in Vancouver.  It’s short and to the point.  It has enough high notes for this soprano to get real pleasure in hitting them with brute (roll the r) force and warbling gusto.

I did not meet the Queen or even see her.  But I did see Princess Anne (the “Princess Royal” aka the Queen’s daughter) who met my Uncle Godfrey in 1971 when one of his abstract carvings was formally presented to her.  At the “Spectacular Spectacular,” Princess Anne was seated a few rows below and to my right.  I could see the back of her head and her profile when she turned to talk to the gentleman (Duke? Dude? Knight?) beside her.  Sorry ye royal buffs, I am not an expert… 

Getting on to the fashion now… What on Earth would I wear to a Queen’s 90th Birthday celebration? With some valuable feedback from fashionista friends (grazie Sophie, Rhea, Andra, Jyoti, Rimps et Cathy…), a great dress from Tina and Flora, and borrowed accessories (thanks Mom), it all pulled-together last minute.

The dress is from Tina Songergard (, a Roman-based designer who made the dress – with Flora – in her charming shop in the happening Monti area of Roma.  A black and white version of the dress was on a red carpet this last season!

The back of Tina’s shop:


The front of Tina’s shop with Tina on the left, Flora on the right:


Here is the outfit just before I got into the car for Windsor:


Apologies for the lighting but above is the only photo I have that gets (almost, alas not all) the shebang.  Shoes miu miu made and bought in Italy.  The buckles just felt so right, although Sophie lobbied hard for a more feminine shoe (thinner higher heel, more of a ballet-like front).  Sophie was probably right, but the buckle undid me.  They felt 18th Century which seemed an overriding enough reason to wear them to a royal birthday celebration. The clutch (pochette they call them in Italia) is a wee Fendi made and bought in Italy many years ago.  The earrings, made and bought in India were a happy loan from mamma along with ‘il’ clutch. 

For those of you who asked about hats – since it was an evening event, no hats were in evidence….  (I know I know such a pity.)

Below is the photo I like the best (not posed).  It looks like a selfie! In fact I was grabbing for the phone to dash to the car.  (Thanks Pops for da pics!)


I’m glad I got these photos before I left.  Not only was my car late arriving, but then I got stuck for 2 hours in hideous traffic.  And although I lived for 4 years in London, I forgot. And missed the first part of the evening.  O horror.  All the pics I took of the event are only suitable for ‘memories’ (not blog posts) since the lighting wasn’t my friend.

It was indeed a spectacular event with horse whisperers, horse acrobats, cannon fire, salutes, famous actors and singers.  There were even a handful of beautiful rare-breed cows, dogs and a frisky little goat mascot! Drumming, marching bands and flag waving, including quite a lot of our Canadian maple leaf…  In sum it was royal pomp and circumstance benefitting… a Queen!

Our culture, history and folklore of the princess and the ball and the dress and the queen and her loyal subjects (and the handsome soldiers and beautiful singers and marching bands and bagpipes – I think I could go on) appealed deeply to my not-so-latent chivalrous and blushingly romantic notions.  

On that note, gentle readers, let me sing hip hip hooray to your health, happiness and your birthdays too.

(For balance – and for the record – I am reading a fun book called Princesses Behaving Badly: Real stories from history without the fairy-tale endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie)


Style-Diet Shot – Antonio

“On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

– Thomas Jefferson

I hit a Style-Diet jackpot yesterday, bumping into Antonio in Rome yesterday. In a mecca of style and fashion, Antonio stood out on so many levels.  His suit is an original Valentino made in 1975.  Two years before I was born and well before being bought by Qatar. His mom and I think one of his aunts used to be tailors for Valentino.  Shoes from Tuscany.  Glasses made by a friend, the inside have a small houndstooth design.  Note the matching tie and shoes.  Antonio is a fabulous cross-cultural character in every sense of the word.  He said to tell you that he’s related to Jack Nicolson (a younger brother).  That is a joke.  I’m pretty sure – but the resemblance is uncanny.  He works in the world of art and music.  Currently looking for a museum in Canada to launch an exhibition….


The Style-Diet Shot celebrates individuals with unique style, wearing at least one article of clothing acquired via the Stephens’ Sisters Shopping Diet. It must be local, sustainable, second-hand/re-purposed, inherited or ethically produced. If you can’t find clothing fitting that criteria then it must be from a country with stellar human rights records.

Update shmupdate


“Without a struggle there can be no progress”

– Frederick Douglass

I am slightly bashful to admit that I’ve been consumed by the US primaries for the first time in my life. I never thought I would care so much. But as much as I’ve tried to ignore politics – perhaps because I spent so many years living abroad – I sincerely thought it didn’t really affect me.  But I admit it now.

It does.


I have been nitpicking through the media with a fine-tooth comb to separate the real stories from the corporate spin engines. And today, I just remembered that, in my distraction, I didn’t share some big announcements that came in the wake of this year’s Natural Products Expo.

Basically – drumroll – Big food:  Kelloggs, ConAgra, General Mills, Mars, Hershey, Campbell and Del Monte announced that they will label GMOs nationwide in time for Vermont’s GMO labelling law which kicks in July 2016!!!  Imagine that?!!  Well, it’s not such a stretch since they all already label or reformulate their GMOs in 64 countries.  But finally, they’ve agreed to transparency for their customers in the land of the free and home of the brave.

To remind you all, Big food and Biotech sued the state of Vermont to overturn Vermont’s  GMO labelling law. And lost. They have spent millions upon millions  irrationally fighting grass-roots initiatives to keep American consumers in the dark (CA, WA, CO etc). They lobby congresspeople and senators to the tune of millions of corporate bucks a year. These guys are behind the recently defeated DARK act cloture. So these labelling announcements are BIG news, BIG turnarounds. Finally! This tide is turning, the creaking, leaking ol ship is changing course about the horizon of GMO labelling.

Diya GMO 3 hole shirt

Albeit – there is no guarantee they will follow though. And, although the announcements are not really due to a change of heart, I’m embracing the forth-coming transparency. Some folks have written that they will wait til Big Food follows through and actually labels before declaring victory for the consumer….

Yes, it still is too early to say whether or not the companies who have agreed to label GMOs will renege if they can get the Senate to pass a modified version of the DARK act. The DARK Act = Deny Americans the Right to Know thanks to Senator Roberts and bought politicians protecting corporations over citizen’s rights. To put things into perspective, the DARK Act, alas, is far from dead. Moreover, Vilsack, the US secretary of Agriculture, is still trying to push through the ridiculous idea of QR codes instead of #4simplewords.

Sad to report that my Canadian brothers and sisters are temporarily doomed to the dark, although there are stirrings afoot. More and more people are waking up to the toxic biocide aspect of GMOs, which is a key buried story of this unproven, untested technology.

Let’s just take a tiny second to grin.

(Can you?  Even a bittersweet one-sided wry little upturned lip will do.)

Yes, we still have to push for transparency, fight for the bees and monarchs. We must ban glyphosate, ban neonicotonoids and other biocides, ban these toxic GMOs, stop the TPP, Site C and countless other injustices to people and planet. Work and struggle are ahead indeed. However, things are moving. I just heard about Costco lending money to farmers to spur forward organic production. What fantastic news.

Now if you still haven’t broken out in a smile, check out the Garry Oak Seedling growing out of the remains of an invasive Scotch Broom stump:

garry oak seedling next to broom stub

To summarize, needed change is happening in this important food movement. Away from the dark and towards the LIGHT.  We are turning like Sunflowers.

The truth is our collective light.  The medium is the internet.  I thank independent news, rabble rousers, and social media. I say a great big Grazie to my tireless, driven facebook friends.  Thank you all for sharing inconvenient news we need to hear and have to know. I’m grateful, oh so grateful for you, for this technology. Without it, we would be beholden to corporate media.

Maybe they didn’t realize that in burying our voices, they were inadvertently sowing seeds. Which have been germinating….

Style-Diet Shot – Andra

“On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Spending time around and about Rome these days, I’m continually surrounded by architectural, historical, cultural and sartorial beauty. Mamma Mia! I’m so overwhelmed, I hardly know where to start.  I post photos on instagram, I gush continually over the food and yesterday, I ran into charming Andra not too far from the Colloseum.

I told Andra about my blog and asked if I could take her photo.  I wanted to share her style of the day with you all.  Andra layered her greens delightfully: malachite earrings, sparklies in her necklace, the avocado handbag and the muddy forest of her dress. Like me, she strongly feels that clothes should be made without human sufferance. She is passionate about eating fruits and vegetables in season.  When I asked her about where her clothes came from she replied that she “was wearing boots made in Italy, from a roman producer. My handbag is made in Rome, in the small Sirni studio in via della Stelletta. My coat is an Italian brand of a guy in Veneto and it’s called Seventy and made in Italy.”

Andra colors changed

The Style-Diet Shot celebrates individuals with unique style, wearing at least one article of clothing acquired via the Stephens’ Sisters Shopping Diet. It must be local, sustainable, second-hand/re-purposed, inherited or ethically produced. If you can’t find clothing fitting that criteria then it must be from a country with stellar human rights records.

Geez-Louise, Dad (J.K.)

Churn this around in your head.  It’s not that adults produce children.  It’s that children produce adults.

I was mulling about children in light of relatively new evidence that my teenager doesn’t think I’m as cool as she did when she was, say 6 years old. Or even 12.  Or even last year.  I have gone from amazingly cool to occasionally embarrassing. I was dismayed to feel the umbilical chord stretch for the very first time this Fall. We have had such a great run that I thought we would be immune forever. However, I am accepting of my new status partly because I have hope. That the chord will bounce back like a taut elastic.    In time.    Indeed, I am certain of it.

Because I too felt embarrassed by my own dad growing up. Painfully at times, telling my classmates about whole grains and the benefits of vegetarianism and meditation. But I’ve gotten past that. Or maybe the world just caught up?

Well, to be honest, he embarrasses me still. With different things. Here’s a current example; in his just-released TEDx UW talk, he shows a picture of me in hospital, clutching my IV pole and – hold on gentle readers – wearing a non-Stephens’ Sisters Shopping Diet hospital gown.

Joking aside, all the above is a rambling preamble for his wonderful talk. Check it out:

Truth is always stranger than fiction. When people ask me about my dad, I never know where or how to begin. So I’m super stoked that his talk is out. It’s a tip of the iceberg introduction: his paintings, his inspiring life path, his marriage to my (equally interesting) Indian mother and yes even our live liver donation story (now you are in on the hospital gown reference — Heck I’ll embarrass myself if it spurs someone else to donate their liver.)

On the quest for transparency, truth and social justice, it’s normal to embarrass your kids occasionally. Right? But every so often I’m surprised when my munchkins beg in stereo, “Mom please don’t talk about pesticides with [so and so]’s parents.” I smile quietly.  Sometimes I can’t help but say “You will understand when you’re older.” I feel that sharing valuable information with my fellow humans is worth a little un-comfortability. Because if you always stay within your cocoon of ease, can you make meaningful change?       Can you?

What do you think? I want to know.

I’ll close this post with the words of Russell Brand, who will certainly embarrass his kids. (A lot):

“Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.”

Auguri and the Befana


Auguri‘ is Italian, roughly meaning good wishes. It’s as multi-purposed a word as ‘Ciao’ and Italians can’t say it enough at this time of year.  Auguri derives from the ancient Etruscan and Roman practice of (guess?) augury which was studying the patterns of birds to predict whether a course of action (like declaring war) would be successful.

In the world’s first public museum (Gallerie Borghese, 1734), I saw this unusual ancient Roman marble statue of an old woman which got me thinking about how rare it is that we celebrate… old women.

January 6 is an Italian national holiday: the epiphany/befana.  On the night of 5th, la Befana (roughly translated to Christmas Witch) comes to bring treats for children. The 6th has always been special to me because it’s my dad’s birthday. Ever since I donated my liver to him in 2011, his birthdays are even more meangingful (Happy Birthday Dad!)  For Christians the world over, the twelfth day of Chritmas (12 Drummers drumming) is known as the epiphany and when the 3 Kings/Wise men came. The Befana was apparently invited to Jesus’ birth by the Kings. Although she didn’t make it, her legend is evoked on this day; she brings presents to children in the night and can give a wicked good sweep of the house while she’s at it. Throughout Europe, gift-bearing magical beings bring presents to children on the night of the 5th of January.

A couple weeks ago walking about Rome near San Giovanni in Laterano (oldest Church), Santa Claus came across our paths. Not a guy wearing a cheap costume and polyester beard but a normally-dressed man with red cheeks, bushy white beard and mustache – must not forget the twinkle in his eyes. My head swivelled around as I nudged my daughters who similarly started and stared in delight. Mr Claus smiled back, obviously used to such attention – especially in December A little part of me thought “What if he really *is* Santa?” before I reminded myself that despite my childhood beliefs (and a desire to believe in a jolly old soul who indulges  children’s toy fantasies)… Santa Claus in his present incarnation is a marketing invention conceived of by Coca Cola.

The Italian Befana is a traditon pehaps linked to a pagan goddess and subsequently amalgamated into a Christian tradition. If my North American family were to be in Italy right now, they would be forgiven for thinking that the Italians are trying to recycle Halloween treats with ugly witches on broomsticks at every turn. The witches have warts, wiry grey hair, Harry Potter broomsticks and are bundled in a scarf and plain clothes.

Thinking about the Befana, I started to imagine myself as an Italian child. Maybe my inner infantile Italian incarnation would be entranced by old ladies with homely nasal protuberances.  Would any of my Italian readers stare at old ladies – especially as kids- wondering if they were the *real* Befana?

What a lovely way to grow up, seeing hardy, hearty, non-fashionable grannies with warts and double chins  as magical creatures bringing candies for the good and coal for the naughty. (Actually all the kids get coal since none can be good all the time.  Worry not my eco warrior friends- the coal stays in the ground. Modern day children of Italy receive lumps of  black candy made of non GMO sugar).   

For this year, I aspire to learn more of powerful women, both real and imaginary.  May this year bring important changes via powerful and real men and women.  May our internal drummers pound away, may we dance  wildly to righteous beats, may we listen to our inner children, and harness our collective magic!


Biocide in me

“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and share our heads.  How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?”

– Jane Goodall

Results are in.

And they’re not great.

I’ve ridden a few medical roller coasters to know too well the sinking feeling of just *waiting* to take the test. Then waiting for the results. And then, finally, the surreal moment where it’s confirmed you have “it.” (It being the worst possible outcome.)

In many cases, “it” is a defined problem requiring surgery or unpleasant treatment. In other cases, it is not clear what is going on. In this case my “it” is 3.1 parts per billion glyphosate in my body.

Glyphosate in my body! 3.1 parts per billion! Huh? Say what? How? Why?

Although I have more questions than answers, I wanted to share this news with you. I’ve been slowly ruminating on the results, trying to learn more about its implications. Let me backtrack for a second…. In the summer, through the detox project I sent off samples of my urine and kitchen tap water. They were part of the first ever batch of Canadian samples from a small group of Canadians including Tony Mitra, worried about toxic exposure to glyphosate. When the results came in a few weeks ago, I found that the tap water was blessedly clean. But the urine… Well… Here are my results from The Detox Project (previously known as Feed the World):

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.35.11 AM

If you’re not familiar with this ‘herbicide’ which I prefer to call a biocide, here’s a summary in the next paragraph. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in round-up, a best selling herbicide, a patented antibiotic and one of the worst things to ever be used in agriculture. Up there with DDT and Agent Orange perhaps? For a video summary about glyphosate in our food, check out Thierry Vrain’s talk:

A quick summary- skip if you know about glyphosate. Glyphosate started off as a patented industrial descaler invented to bind to heavy metals. It was discovered to kill plants and then used widely as a herbicide. Resistance was spliced into most GMOs that are available for human consumption. This is in order to control weeds (I won’t talk about superweeds and resistance to glyphosate in this post). It kills plants and bacteria by disrupting the shikimate pathway. So farmers spray glyphosate on GMO crops such that everything in the field dies except the GMO plant. Some folks call GMOs: Glyphosate Modified Organisms. Glyphosate is also widely used as a dessicant, killing and drying out a field of non-organic wheat, for example, to allow the farmer to harvest the field in one go. (The wheat isn’t washed before it’s ground into flour.) Other crops are also subject to this dessicant treatment. This is not a GMO application, which makes it perhaps even more insidious. Glyphosate was originally considered ‘safe’ because it doesn’t attack human cells. Well, there’s a more sinister application of glyphosate; Monsanto patented it a few years ago as an antibiotic because they determined that it kills bacteria. Guess what? We humans walk around with 10 bacteria cells for every human cell.  So it attacks our micro-biome (the magical mysterious universe of gut bacteria).


Glyphosate is not allowed in organic farming and this is one reason I try to feed my body and my growing familys’ bodies certified organic food as much as possible. When I sent in the samples I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Maybe a low level of ‘environmental’ glyphosate in my body? Not purposely ingested of course, but emanating from the air (public parks and train tracks are sprayed with the stuff). OCD gardeners spray it on weeds like dandilions.  It can come from the water (polluted from industrial farming run-off).  Or perhaps from the non-organic food I ingest. I have read studies where unborn babies have glyphosate in their blood, and others that show glyphosate in wild animals. I have also read that in some studies, the chronically ill have higher levels of glyphosate in their bodies.*

I certainly didn’t expect such a level of 3.1 ppb.  What does it mean to have 3.1 ppb in my body of glyphosate? To be honest, nobody really knows for sure exactly what it means in humans.  But it’s certainly not *good* – how could any levels of this toxin, chelator, biocide, and antibiotic IN MY BODY be good? Without my permission. Without my volition.

Here are some links for you to peruse:

5 things you need to know about glyphosate testing:

10 things you need to know about glyphosate:

And for those of you who want to geek out:

Glyphosate in Numbers with links to peer-reviewed studies.

So, you may ask, if I suspected that I might have glyphosate in my body due to environmental contamination, why did I spend money to test myself?

Simply put: I want to know.

I ought to know.

I have the right to know and empower myself.

Knowledge is the first step towards change.

Let me tell you what I want. I want my fellow citizens to be aware of this probable carcinogen and toxin insidiously entering our bodies.  I want our governments to change laws, to protect us and to focus on sustainable agriculture than replenishes the soil.

I want all toxic biocides removed from our food production. I want chemical company shills to stop claiming that glyphosate is safe to drink! But what I really really want is the growing of food to return to being an act of love.

Ah.. just take a second and envision that.  Smile. It’s a happy place.

See the shiny happy children of a clean world?  It’s summer and they are playing geocache in ancient forests, whispering secrets to butterflies in restored meadows, canon-balling into clean waters teeming with life, growing vegetables with their grandparents…

And thanking you.


[I dedicate this post to the brave and beautiful Australian women from Byron Shire Chemical Free Landcare Volunteers.]


*Studies not funded by the companies that manufacture Glyphosate, tend to show that it is harmful.  In fact, the WHO declared Glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.  The US regulatory bodies, however, have relied on research provided by the companies who will profit from its sale.

It’s different in Europe.  A few weeks ago in Rome, I was speaking with a forestry biologist from the FAO (sort of like the UN’s FDA).  Nicolas Picard said that the FAO has a whole department who researches the *sources* and *funding* of research.  They ensure that the research used in studies or to make important policy decision are independent.  Thus they discount the corporate research and University research primarily funded by industry. When I mentioned how Robyn O’Brien says that researches should wear lab coat or tee shirts with the logos of the companies that sponsor them, Nicolas gleefully agreed!