Friday, 28 September 2012

{this moment} 12-09-28

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Unlike Amanda, this week mine has words - I can't help myself.

Keeping up with my One Less Car goal as much as I can!

Friday, 21 September 2012

{this moment} 12-09-21

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Community Supported Agriculture: A Win For All

In my community we have strong historical roots to agriculture. Richmond's largest crop is cranberries but blueberries, potatoes, corn, raspberries and many other crops are grown each year in local farms. I grew up in a neighbourhood next to the Bissett family's blueberry farm that is now on Westham Island in Delta, and to make money each summer my friends and I would pick blueberries from the wild bushes in the nearby bog and sell blueberries in ice cream buckets to neighbours. Many of our neighbours' parents worked on the blueberry farms as pickers. One of my favourite childhood memories of growing up in Richmond was doing our weekly produce shopping at the roadside stands of family run farms along Steveston Hwy and No. 5 Road instead of big chain grocery stores. In university I worked for a season as a cashier at Richmond Country Farms, located off Steveston Hwy near the George Massey Tunnel. We continue this tradition with our children visiting many favourite farm stands.
Apples at the Terra Nova Sharing Farm

One of dichotomies of today's society is that we have needy families in a land of plenty. I am a teacher and I see students come to school without breakfast and often without lunches. Children cannot learn, cannot function, without food in their bellies, which is why some schools, like mine, have a breakfast program and also provide lunches to those in need.

The Terra Nova Sharing Farm, close to the middle arm of the Fraser River, near the Vancouver International Airport, grows food for the food bank to provide needy families with fresh, local, in season produce. They also promote sustainability in the community through workshops on organic farming and practices, promote community building with a strong volunteer program as well as food security awareness.

As a family we have always enjoyed going to the festivals and events that the Sharing Farm has held but I became more interested in the Sharing Farm through a high school friend who has been involved with the farm and in the community as food security activist for years. She has recently moved to Vancouver Island to pursue her dreams of an organic farm. It is through her posts on social networking sites that I found out about the Sharing Farm's Community Supported Agriculture. Some spots opened up this year and we jumped at the chance to share in this year's harvest while also supporting the good work that the Sharing Farm does to support those in need.
Three different weeks' CSA veggies

We paid for our portion of the harvest early in the year, then starting the beginning of July we had a weekly share of the harvest that we picked up at the farm each Thursday. This week marks the last CSA pick up for the season. There are weeks where we were in a hurry, but usually my daughters and I enjoyed walking around the farm and community gardens.
Community garden plots at Terra Nova

My daughters' favourite on these weekly visits is a stop at the chicken coop. We dearly wish our city allowed backyard chickens, but alas it is not the case right now.
The chickens out of their coop, getting some fresh air

When we have more time we have walked around the Terra Nova natural area, a former farm that has been fallow for decades.

My favourite thing to do on these visits is to take photos.

The Sharing Farm is a wonderful place to connect with nature and people in the community.
One of the bee hives at the Sharing Farm

 A friend's son participated in a volunteer program at the farm where they partner teenagers with seniors.
The cob oven at the Sharing Farm

My oldest daughter wanted to attend a week long day camp for children eight and up to learn about growing, harvesting and cooking for but we had already booked a family holiday for the same time. She hopes to attend next year. Maybe it will motivate me to walk the walk and volunteer as well.
The CSA pick-up stand on Westminster Hwy 

They also have a market stand on Saturdays for the general public to purchase a portion of the weekly harvest.

I highly encourage others to seek a community shared agriculture program in their area, donate to local sustainability programs, grow on a plot in a community garden or just walk around a local rural area with your family and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells it has to offer.

Friday, 14 September 2012

{this moment} 12-09-14

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

My version, unlike Amanda's, does have a caption. I can't help myself. 

A pause on a busy bike riding day. Waiting for big sisters.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Garden Reflections 2012

The growing season is quickly coming to an end. I can feel the nip in the air in the morning and evening, and we have to remember to take a hoodie or light coat when we head out the door. As much as I will miss summer, I am excited about the changing colours of the leaves, the smell of pumpkin spice and pulling out my favourite sweaters again. We are crazy for Hallowe'en in my family, which is a close second to Yule and Christmas. If I were being honest with myself, I think autumn may be my favourite season.

But I am sad to say good bye to my veggie garden for another year. This was my second summer with full garden beds in a backyard (container gardening in our townhouse in years prior) so I am a newbie and don't think of myself as a gardener yet. But I am starting to get my "sea legs" and figure things out through trial and error.

One of the raised beds in mid July.

After following some urban farming blogs I am starting to get the idea that I need to keep a journal of the season to remember what grew well, what didn't do well and why, any problems I encountered and any changes for next year. So that is what I hope to do with this post!

This is what we gave to our neighbours several times throughout the season. 

This year, for the first time, I grew almost everything from seed, and with a few exceptions this went well. I grew the following:
tomatoes (two kinds)
swiss chard
brussels sprouts
green beans
potatoes (seed potatoes from last year in soil)
chives (from previous years)
green onions (from previous years)
*not from seed

Some of the seed packets I used.

One of the things I loved about growing my plants from seed is that it was immensely satisfying watching each and every plant sprout and grow taller and stronger. My daughters and I would check on them daily and talk about what the seeds looked like, perhaps why some sprout sooner than others, and why some didn't sprout at all. We had great conversations about optimal growing conditions, and what happened when a section of seeds and seedlings were overwatered or didn't get enough light. It was an amazing learning opportunity for all of us to see the seedlings, which all looked pretty much the same as initial sprouts, begin to differentiate into the various plants, and we had fun trying to identify them without looking at the labels on the pots.

My wee babies, I mean seedlings.

The other thing I loved about growing from seeds is that this time I really felt like they were my plants. In fact, they were like my children and I felt pride and joy as they grew stronger and began to yield food for us. Conversely, I felt sad when some died because I planted them outside a little too soon and when some struggled after some heavy rain. I felt far more invested in them compared to the plants I have purchased.

In the foreground are the tomato plants, then peas, beans and squash in behind.

Next year, however, I will not grow herbs from seed. I have had difficulties with this in the past but thought I would try again. My basil never fully thrived and it had a very bitter taste throughout the season. Perhaps it didn't get hot enough for it at a crucial point in its growth (we had a chilly, rainy spring).  I don't seem to be able to kill my chives and green onions though. The chives were given to me from a neighbour a couple of years ago and my green onions were started years ago.

Shortly after planting the newbie plants. On the right side you 
can see the peas which should be much taller by this point. 
I planted them too late.

I believe that turning the soil in my garden beds with steer and chicken manure in early April really made the difference for healthy and full plants. Last year our neighbour built the first raised bed for us (we are so lucky) and I'm not sure the soil was the best quality, especially after seeing the difference this year when my neighbour added another raised bed to our yard but I bought the manure to add to both beds. I'm looking forward to using our own compost material next growing season. I wonder if I should still add some manure? Maybe I can get some from a local organic cattle farm?

Our compost bin, purchased from the City of Richmond.

So what will I do differently next year? In addition to not growing herbs from seed (unless anyone can give me some helpful tips), I will plant my peas about a month earlier, and I will plant my pumpkins a month later. I will also put much more thought into planning where to put each plant. I was careful with spacing this year (major problem last year) but really, growing brussels sprouts next door to kale really wasn't bright. My poor cucumbers, which really weren't happy from the get-go (must read more about them) became swallowed by first the zucchinis, then the pumpkins, which were threatening to strangle us in our sleep.

Tomatoes can be finicky here in our temperate west coast climate and once again they were a challenge for me. I usually buy my tomato plants already with tomatoes on them, but last year I had fun watching them develop from small three inch plants, so as mentioned previously, I tried them from seed. One of my tomato varieties was much happier than the other, at least for growing here in Steveston. The yellow grape tomatoes are ripening much more successfully than my larger red tomatoes. The larger tomato variety became stressed in mid August (or at least that's what my internet search results told me it means when the leaves flip over and curl) and I couldn't figure out why. Coincidentally the yellow grape ones are a heritage variety I picked up at the Foxglove Farm and Garden on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

The first harvest of tomatoes that made it into the house. 
We popped them into our mouths as fast as they ripened.

What other challenges did I face? My pumpkin leaves got a powdery mildew in August, which spread to the zucchinis. Other than slightly slowing down their growth and looking really ugly, I didn't notice any ill effects. The pumpkins themselves look great right now (fully ripe) and the zucchinis are still producing for us.

We have eight pumpkins in total this year.

I don't know if I will be able to sweet talk my neighbour into building us another raised bed next year (I'd like two more for my backyard and eventually some in the front yard), but regardless I want to plant more of the veggies my girls enjoyed eating this year: triple the number of peas (a huge favourite), beans and cucumbers; double the carrots, beets, spinach and radishes. I will half the number of zucchinis, chard and kale, mostly because we also participated in a local CSA: community supported agriculture  veggie pick up once a week and guess what they grew?!? Yup, each week we were inundated with zucchini (at one point I had over two dozen in my fridge), chard and kale from both gardens. Green smoothies anyone?!

The first week's veggie pick up from the Terra Nova Sharing Farm

Our garden continues now with the brussels sprouts, which I am looking forward to harvesting at Thanksgiving in October, and possibly for Christmas dinner again. This past Christmas morning I was so proud to cut the last stalk out of my garden and cook it up for my family.

Freshly harvested brussels sprouts on Christmas morning!

At a recent visit to the UBC Botanical Garden I purchased a winter gardening guide book which I am slowly working my way through; however I'm too late to do a winter garden this year. Hopefully next year I'll have plans in place mid to late summer to begin a winter garden. Perhaps it is a good idea to grow kale in the winter garden instead, along with some cabbage (which we missed this year) and other hardy veggies.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some other crucial bits of information I will need but this long enough and a lot to process.

Do you have a backyard garden? Do you container garden? What have you learned this year?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

A Love of Bikes

I am publicly stating my goal to use my bike more in the 2012-2013 school year.

I love my bike and few things me happier than riding around my community at my leisure on my bike. Part of the reason why I enjoy bike riding so much is it gets me outside and seeing everything I would miss in my car.

At Garry Point in Steveston

When I was in university in my mid-twenties I rode my bike to school on a daily basis all year long. I would purposely take the long route along stunning Vancouver beaches. It was better than a cup of coffee to breathe in the fresh air and see the ocean. I didn't care if it was cold or raining. In fact, I preferred the poor weather days because it meant I had the road along my route to myself. 

Locarno Beach, Vancouver, B.C.

Of course life stepped in as I "grew up", with a full-time job that required driving around to various locations in a given week, so my husband and I shared a car and used public transit. This worked well, and I still rode my bike, or walked, as much as I could. Then our jobs took us to different locations, so we added a car. 

Our latest second car, a Dodge Caravan. I wish there was 
the option of a hybrid or electric mini-van on the market. 

Sure we could have made the commitment to stay a one car family, but honestly living in the suburbs with a spouse who worked in another suburb makes transit extremely difficult. Some will disagree with me but I feel that the public transit in my area (Metro Vancouver) is geared toward moving people to the downtown core, not between suburban areas. 

Then children started coming into the picture, which really does change everything. I know that many families can't afford the luxury of a car and survive quite nicely taking public transit, and I am privileged having access to even one vehicle. But wow is it so much easier to have a vehicle when you have kids. Yes, I chose convenience over the environment, but as a family of five with three young children, we have chosen wisely for my current happiness. Whenever I have taken a transit trip alone with my children it has been a gong show: crying, fighting, hunger, needing a bathroom or diaper change, carrying bags, a stroller, etc. We become the entertainment for the other passengers. 

However, we have tried to make more ethical choices, such as having one hybrid car and using that one as much as possible. We also made the choice to live closer to where we work which brought us back to the suburb in which we were raised. We bought a home in Steveston village, an area of Richmond that we love because we can walk or ride our bike for shopping and activities. There have a been sacrifices because of the high cost of homes in our area (I must continue to work at least half time).

I still love bike riding and have continued to go on local bike rides with my children. It has become easier as each child grows up and learns how to ride her own bike. At first it was one, then two kids sharing a bike trailer, which isn't without it's own challenges, I assure you. Three kids seems to change everything in our two-child family dominated world. Because I have summers off with my children and go on adventures without my husband, my ability (and desire) to go places by bike has waxed and waned depending on my children's age (and my energy level). For example, it is impossible to travel by bike with an infant for safety reasons. And gosh cars are just so convenient, aren't they?

A play pit stop on one of our family bike trips.

My children have reached an age where I am able to get back on my bike more regularly and we can enjoy ourselves on biking adventures. My oldest two kids ride their bikes (middle child just learned how to ride a two-wheeler this summer) so we are trying to use our bikes to get to shops and activities in our community instead of using the car, and we ride our bikes to school (or walk). We also enjoy weekend trips with my husband.

At Pedalheads Bike Camp this summer. I highly recommend 
their camps for not only learning to ride a two-wheeler 
but also for learning road rules and safety when children are older.

But I want to challenge myself to ride my bike to work on my short days on alternating Fridays, and drop off my youngest at preschool (further afield) once a week. I am being modest with this goal because I know it will be a real challenge. It is going to be a big change in my routine and I am going to go easy on myself if I have a bad day or have too much going on and opt for the car instead. I hope that stating my goal here will keep me a little more accountable, but big changes require more time to stick.
My youngest in our bike trailer.

A positive spin-off to this goal is that it may help me simplify my life and help me remember to breathe, even a tiny bit. It is easy to do so many quick errands with a car, and although it helps cross things off my to-do list, it also makes me feel rushed and agitated (try pushing three kids in and out and in and out of a car - not fun). Maybe I can save them for when I don't have my kids with me, or fit them in on my bike, or skip them altogether!?! 

Bike sculpture in front of Steveston Village Bikes 

A bike ride is like a therapy session for me and that may be my biggest motivator. Wish me luck.

Friday, 7 September 2012

{this moment} 12-09-07

Inspired by Amanda Soule at

 "{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Lightening the Laundry Load Part One: Soap Nuts

As a family of five, three of whom are young children, we do a great deal of laundry. Currently we do on average about five loads per week. When my children were infants, and when I used cloth diapers (which I will discuss in a future post), we did perhaps three loads over two days. There are periods when we do more, such as when the stomach 'flu hits our home or when we have nighttime accidents.

Just one or two of the of the many, many loads we do per week.

Because of the frequency with which we use our washing machine and dryer, I have sought ways to lighten our environmental load when doing the laundry. The first step is using the cold cycle to wash and rinse, which many people do now, so this is a no-brainer. Energy star appliances are another step.

I think most people upgrade to energy 
star appliances when they need to replace older models.

My husband has asthma and both of us have sensitivities to scents and additives, so we have always used unscented laundry detergent. For years I thought this was enough. I am amazed at the impact that scents in detergent can have on me. If we stay with someone who uses scented detergent I immediately have problems breathing and sometimes even get a headache. My husband has an even stronger reaction than I do. So far our children don't seem as sensitive, but then again we don't have strong scents around them on a regular basis. I don't think people realize how toxic synthetic scents can be, and after careful label reading I have noticed that even "unscented" products contain perfume!

Note the "unscented" label on this antiperspirant. But is it really?

Sorry for the quality of the photo, but on the second to last line of 
ingredients listed is "parfum", a fancy word for fragrance or scent, 

When both my husband and I still noticed sensitivities to laundry detergent, and after doing research into the ingredients of conventional detergents, I sought alternatives. I've tried various "green" detergents, and while I have not noticed sensitivities, I do not like the cost. I also do not like the pseudo green products on the market that can dupe the consumer into thinking they are green with clever marketing tactics, a problem that is now called greenwashing. It takes so much energy when shopping to read labels after doing extensive internet research into ingredients to determine if they are toxic (as I am not a chemist- never took chemistry past grade 10 actually). It really doesn't seem fair that the onus is on the consumer to be aware of this. Don't get me started on the government lacking the political will to regulate companies and have them be honest about what goes into their products.

I can't remember how I discovered soap nuts. After some research into the pros and cons, and discovering some friends who use soap nuts, I decided to give them a try. I haven't been able to purchase soap nut in its whole form (throw them in the wash in a mesh bag) locally. I purchased some at a local store that are ground up in a filter-like bag that you throw into the wash and then toss when finished. When our current box is gone I plan on ordering whole soap nuts from an on line company I have found (the dried nuts, which are actually berries, go into the wash in a mesh or cloth baggie).

This is a box of 30 individual packets of ground soap nuts.

The packets are single use. Soap nuts are compostable, although I'm 
not sure if the packet material can be recycled or composted 
(they seem to be similar to coffee filters so I assume they can be).

So do they work? Yes. We have not noticed any difference in our laundry - clothes come out just as clean (caveat: see thoughts on stains below) and there have been no sensitivity reactions. Some people have complained about an odd smell when the clothes are wet, which we have not noticed. I think that perhaps those that notice an odd odour are not used to washing their clothes without scented detergent to mask the smell (?) of wet cloth. I am not sure if this is related to the soap nuts or the nature of my messy kids, but I have found that stains require more pre-treatment lately, which I am not very good at remembering to do. If you see a child walking around with a visible record of what they have eaten on their clean clothing (tomato sauce, anyone?), they may be mine. However, in a future post I will discuss my stain remover secret.

I have read some criticisms of soap nuts from a sustainable point of view. As they are a crop grown overseas in developing countries and land must be used to grow them, it may contribute to destruction of natural habitat (although this does not seem to be the case with the minimal research I have done) or reduction in other crops for the communities that grow soap nuts (again, I'm not sure about this). Also, it is important to keep in mind how far soap nuts must travel to reach our homes. I suppose you could research where the soap nuts you purchase are grown and how the farmers and their communities are treated by the companies, but once again, unless the company is direct about this information the onus is on the consumer. Sigh.

In the end, I like using soap nuts. They are completely compostable when they are fully used (whole nuts can be used several times). They are "natural" and involve minimal processing with hopefully a low environmental impact (not sure how they harvest or what process they use to dry the berries). They are safe for use in my high efficiency washing machine. I don't have to do anything different when I do laundry, so there is no change in my routine, and which is important when trying to make an environmental change. A win for us.

Do you have sensitivities to laundry detergents? Have you tried soap nuts or other "green" laundry detergents? What works for you?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

And So It Begins

This is the inaugural post for my new blog, documenting my family's journey toward a more green life in our suburban community, Steveston.

I believe in the physical and spiritual connection amongst all parts of an ecosystem, and I believe that where I live has influenced my life.

Steveston is a lovely area of Richmond, B.C. that has rich past, and present, links to the fishing and farming industries.

The natural beauty of this area provides inspiration for living an outdoor lifestyle, with easy access to mile after mile of walks along the Fraser River dyke. On any given day we are witness to majestic bald eagles who make their nest in the trees or herons searching for food in the marshy shore. My children (and iPhone olloclip) have motivated me to notice the smaller things as well, such as the much loved ladybugs and honey bees. There is much to keep the outdoor lover occupied.

We can walk through community gardens and shop for local produce at the many farms in the area or the farmer's market and numerous local festivals.

With bike paths and flat terrain of the river delta, much of what the area has to offer is accessible by foot or bike, making it easy to transition to a less car-dependent lifestyle.

What we do in our family toward being more conscious of our eco footprint is not unique to families today, especially here in my local community, and there will always be people more "green" than us. My purpose is to document the path we are traveling, the change in our thinking that occurs, the roadblocks that we encounter on our own unique journey. I hope to connect with other green-minded families. As a teacher it is my passion to mentor others in their own learning process, so I hope to maybe even inspire someone to challenge their own thinking through this blog.

How does where you live affect your life and your ability to follow a green path?