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Attention Guerrilla Gardeners: the Liz Christy Seed Bomb (A How-to)

In 1973, on a mission to green Manhattan, Liz Christy and her band of green guerrillas took to the streets armed with weapons of mass creation: seed bombs. Liz and her army hurled these homemade concoctions into the air well into the wee hours of the morning, as New Yorkers were fast asleep, unaware of the green revolution unfolding at their doorsteps.

I have come across several recipes for seed bombs, but none as elaborate as the Liz Christy. My daughter and I made seed bombs last year, and along with her kindergarten class, we bombed a spot next to the Laurier Metro station, but saw no results. I have a feeling that the mix of wildflower seeds was a favourite among our feathered friends.

(If you are a seasoned green thumb and think you could improve on the following recipe or seed mixture, please leave a comment so the green revolution may continue.)

Anyway, the Liz Christy appears to have been a little better designed. Bombers could use either a balloon or a glass Christmas decoration for the bomb casing. A funnel was used to add the seeds, some time-released fertilizer pellets, moistened peat moss crumbs, some tissue paper and finally some water before the bomb was tied off (balloon) or plugged with a small piece of cloth (glass Christmas ornament) and shaken vigorously.*

Bombers were sent on a reconnaissance mission ahead of time to determine how many seed bombs would be required to cover their target area. They also received instructions on bombing techniques: an overhand throw for the balloon bomb and underhand lob for the glass ornament. Vacant lots without any public access were their primary targets.

Bombing took place throughout 1973 until the City surrendered a vacant lot in Manhattan on the north-east corner of Bowery and Houston to Liz Christy and her crew for the symbolic sum of $1 a month in April of 1974.

The seed mix changed with the seasons to increase their chances of green advances.

Early Spring: Batchelor Buttons, Diathunus, Grass, Wildflowers
Late Spring: Cosmos, Portulaca, Zinnias, Nicotiana
Early Summer: Sunflower, Ornamental Grass Mix, Zinnias, Marigolds
Early Fall: Soy Beans, Clover, Winter Rye, Cleome

Personally, I would opt for the balloon seed bomb casing, as it can hold more ammo (Maybe Christmas ornaments were larger and made of thicker, more resistant glass in the early 70s) . I also think that balloons are easier to transport.

I found the glass Christmas ornament a bit odd given the broken glass it would produce, but I think we can cut these do-gooders some slack. After all, what's the fun of bombing without a resounding crash...Just don't let your children play in the area afterwards.

*Source: http://www.lizchristygarden.org/
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Aborted Attempt at 100-Mile Diet and Cod Stew

For several weeks, I have been trying to adhere to the 100-mile diet. As diets usually result in failure, I’m taking it one food group at a time. This week, we’re on to proteins, and in an effort to cut down on our red meat consumption, I have opted for a fish recipe. I’m also going to support sustainable fishing practices and follow Canada’s Seafood Guide. Biting off more than I can chew—probably.

(Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew? Tell us about it in the comments)

Unfortunately, the Guide doesn’t list any fish in the 100-mile radius surrounding Montreal. In fact, the only thing you can catch easily around our fine metropolis is a dose of something that is better not discussed while on the topic of food. We could always fish for lake trout, but while taking my kids fishing might be fun, there’s no guarantee we’d catch anything, except maybe someone’s eye.

Initially, I wanted to try the 100-mile diet because I saw that a lot of the supermarket fish and seafood products came from ports as far away as China, Thailand, India, and Russia, and the products don’t swim here—they are shipped in ice blocks. Not exactly my idea of fresh.

Anyway, I managed to unearth what appeared to be a tasty-looking cod stew recipe. I realize that even if cod is fished in Quebec, it probably comes from Baie Comeau, well beyond the 100-mile radius. Okay, so I start to bend the rules a little. There has to be cod fished in one of the maritime provinces.

At the fish store, I check the Guide only to find that it recommends West Coast cod to protect East Coast fish stocks.

I ask the fish store employee what kind of cod they have. There’s cod from Newfoundland and black cod from Alaska. I check my recipe for the quantity, and then order a pound and a half of black cod.

The employee tells me that if the recipe calls for cod, I should take the cod from the Rock, as black cod tastes more like Chilean sea bass. I show him the guide, but he disagrees. Apparently, there are some fisheries where cod is still fished. I insist that I want the black cod. He shakes his head in dismay and says, “Okay, but that’s a whole different animal.”

Anyway, the fish store employee was right, even if  I used my best maritime accent to try to convince the fish otherwise, it did not taste like cod, and my stew was a fairly pricey culinary disaster.

Both my daughter and husband grimaced after the first bite. My daughter feigned illness and asked to be excused. My husband said he’d had a big lunch, and I chose to eat it just to show my mettle…but it was lumpy, with the consistency of a runny egg, and the taste was way too fishy, but not in a cod kinda way….

Okay, it was vile, and for the rest of the week, my daughter asked whose turn it was to cook dinner.

Although my first attempt at eating locally and supporting sustainable fishing was unsavory, ergo unsuccessful, I did learn something: fish store employees know a hell of a lot more about fish than I do.

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More On Guerrilla-ing in NYC and St. Henri

In 1973, New York City artist Liz Christy and her band of gardening activists, the green guerrillas, began their quest to reclaim urban space by installing flower boxes and seed-bombing vacant lots. The group eventually came across a promising looking site on the northeast corner of Bowery and Houston in Manhattan. They cleared the rubble and trash, spread some donated topsoil, installed a fence and got down to work.

In December of that year, Liz and her 25-member force approached the City of New York to see if there was a way to gain official access to the land. In April of 1974, the City's Preservation Housing Development Office authorized the rental of the lot for $1 a month, and the Bowery-Houston Community Farm and Garden was born.

Sixty-raised vegetable beds made up the garden's initial configuration, and trees and herbaceous borders were later added. In its second year, the Bowery-Huston won the Mollie Parnis Dress Up Your Neighbourhood Award and became the urban community garden model that spread throughout New York's five boroughs. The original green guerrillas started running workshops and showing other urban gardening groups how to get started.

In 1986, the Bowery-Houston was renamed *Liz Christy's Bowery-Houston Garden in memory of Liz Christy, who died of cancer at the age of 39.

St. Henri Guerrillas One Step Closer to Community Garden

In a recent post, I wrote about a pair of St. Henri. gardening activists, Thoresten Hermann and Fraser Wilkinson. Via Facebook, Hermann informed me of some new developments in their community garden project, which has the entire street abuzz. The City of Montreal, through its organization Eco-Quartier, has offered them topsoil to get started this year. In addition, they will be receiving a few pear trees as an added bonus (however, no mention of a partridge to date).

Hmmm...topsoil and pear trees. Looks like the City is complicit in the boys' plan for a community garden, as municipal authorities have yet to ask either Hermann or Wilkinson if they own the land they're cultivating.
Is the City aiding and abetting, or is the City actually the owner and getting some landscaping for free?

It really doesn't matter. Everyone is a winner. The Delinelle Street residents in St. Henri have a beautiful green space, Hermann and Wilkinson can enjoy gardening, and if the owner ever shows up, s/he has an attractive lot that has been cleared free of charge.

*Source: http://www.lizchristygarden.org/

Related post:
Trespassers in St. Henri Win City Gardening Award
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Plastics: Of The Three Rs, Your Best Bet Is To REDUCE

If you live in an area that recycles plastic, you probably have no qualms about buying products that come in plastic containers. However, you should bear in mind that recycling programs sort plastic by type and then sell it to manufacturers by the bale. If the recycling program cannot find a buyer for a certain type of plastic, which is increasingly common given our economic climate, then it goes to landfill.  In addition, municipal recycling programs rarely recycle all seven types of plastic.

"Recyclable" means the plastic can be recycled. Whether it is recycled or not depends on the recycling program in your municipality or county.

There are the seven types of plastics, which are each assigned a number, or a resin identification code:

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)
#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene)
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)
#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)
#5 PP (Polypropelene)
#6 PS (Polystyrene)
#7 Other

In the picture below, you can see the recycling symbol with a 6 in the centre and the letters "PS" underneath. You guessed it. This is polystyrene.

According to RECYC-Québec, the provincial organization responsible for recycling, plastics 1, 2 and 5 can be recycled throughout the province. This is not surprising, as plastics 1 and 2 are the most common.

What you may not know is that, although one type of plastic may be recycled in one municipality, there is no guarantee that this type of plastic is recycled in your own (the number of buyers for recycled plastic is often limited). For instance, in my municipality, the only type of plastic that is NOT recycled is number 6, polystyrene. Yet, in several municipalities in and around Toronto, they recycle all seven types of plastic. Your best bet is to contact your municipality or visit your municipality's web site to see which types of plastic are recycled in your area, and then make your purchases accordingly.

In addition, if you find a container without a number, remember it will not be recycled. The workers at the sorting station have to be able to find a number to sort it.

The best strategy with respect to plastic is REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE.
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Tresspassers in St. Henri Win City Gardening Award

Last spring, Torsten Hermann and Fraser Wilkinson set to work in creating a community garden in a weedy, garbage strewn lot in St. Henri. The lot had once been the site of two houses, which had burnt to the ground ten years ago.

The two waded into waist-high grass to collect debris remaining from the houses, which included asphalt, concrete and broken glass--a half a ton of rubble in all. This undertaking lasted six weeks after they finished their day jobs.

A working-class Montreal neighbourhood, St Henri was also the setting of Gabrielle Roy's famous novel The Tin Flute. Although the neighbourhood has changed somewhat over the years, it still lacks green spaces.

Clearing the area was not the only work Hermann and Wilkinson had to do. In the beginning, some neighbours did not warm to their idea.

"Some people told us that we were wasting our time, and the neighbour in front," Hermann said pointing to the house across the street, "didn't like it at all."

One of the more difficult jobs involved clearing all the nettles and burdock from the area. Once the weeding was completed and the trees pruned, the pair put in a vegetable and spice garden, which they said was open to the public.

When we visited the site, they had just put in a path with some broken patio stones donated by a neighbour and installed a makeshift fence.As their community garden started to take shape more neighbours started dropping off plants and dropping by to enjoy the greenery.

Hermann showed me a line of flowers and shrubbery donated by neighbours who had received them in the borough flower give-away. Another neighbour had donated a large number of damaged flowers from the Atwater Market. Wilkinson planted this eye-catching patch of flowers at the front of the lot. Within a 10-week period, the lot had been transformed into a tranquil, green space in the middle of St. Henri.

I spoke with neighbour Carlos Robinson-Alvarez, who told us about the positive impact Hermann and Wilkinson's project has had on the neighbourhood.

"When I first moved here, there was a lot of vandalism and garbage lining the street. As you can see, that's no longer the case today. Now, we have people putting out flowers who have never gardened before," he said.

He attributes his neighbours' new found enthusiasm for gardening a direct result of the street's guerrilla gardeners.

The big surprise, however, came in October 2008, when Hermann and Wilkinson received an award in the Sud-Ouest En Fleurs gardening contest.

"I was pleased with the prize because it lent some legitimacy to our project, but I am more pleased that the detractors on our street have become believers and enjoyed themselves this summer," said Hermann.

I wonder if the City realized that they had given an award to trespassers gardening on private property...
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The Gold Standard of Beauty: Targetting Insecurities

I recently received a comment from Amanda on my post "In Response to Impossible Beauty Standards," in which my husband explained that there was no conspiracy among advertisers. An advertiser's job was to sell products, and if s/he found something that worked, the technique would be used again and again.

Amanda left me this message: "Advertisements are telling us, often straight out, that we are ugly if we do not look a certain way." I went to her blog and saw that she had posted several not-so-subtle advertisements about beauty standards, one of which deemed Angelina Jolie the "gold standard" of beauty. Another was about Jolie's lips and how thin lips were ugly. (Click here to see the post.)

We often forget that the media, particularly advertising, is something of a super peer. It doesn't matter what compliments and encouragement your partner, friends or family give you about your accomplishments and appearance. Advertisements can quickly undo all that and undermine how you feel about yourself. That's their purpose.

If I were to try to emulate the "gold standard" Angelina Jolie, look what I would have to do:
1. Be younger: I can't turn back the clock, so I'll get some cosmetic surgery and a chemical peel, and spend some money on anti-wrinkle cream. Hit the treadmill. (Exercise staves off the ageing process.)
2. Get a better body: Breast augmentation surgery. Some liposuction here and there. Hit the gym some more. Buy a treadmill so I can exercise while I watch TV. Buy some more beauty products to make my skin smoother.
3. Need the lips: See a professional for some Botox injections.
4. Style: Change my wardrobe to get the Jolie "look."
5. Be taller: I've heard there is a very painful surgery to make you legs longer, but I'm not ready for that. I'll just invest in some expensive new high-heeled shoes and boots.
6. Be thinner, Angelina is super skinny: Still not satisfied with my body. Try diets and diet aids. Go to the gym even more often. Stop eating. Stop accepting invitations to dinner parties. Take up smoking. Drink more coffee.
7. Fix the hair: I'll have to grow it, but in the meantime, I'll get hair extensions and dye it so our hair's the same colour.

Did you hear a deafening Ka Ching! I spent a lot of time and money, and for what?

I will never look like Angelina Jolie, and the standard will soon change, leaving me with big lips, some dated, ill-fitting clothes, an eating disorder and a treadmill in my living room. Whose the big winner here? Obviously, the people exploiting my insecurities.

Not only do we waste our money trying to meet unattainable beauty standards, but we also waste our time and energy. If we led a simple life and didn't give a damn about our appearances, we would probably look similar to Susan Boyle. But maybe we would have developed a talent like the one she has too.

Isn't she a wake-up call for all of us? Susan Boyle is a middle-aged woman who has not bought into the beauty scam, and she's the first unadulterated image of a woman  we have seen in the media in a long time.

Wouldn't our lives be different if we could stop obsessing about our appearances and spending all our money on unattainable beauty standards?  What if we channeled all our time, energy and money into developing our interests, sustaining meaningful relationships, and discovering who we really are?
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Mysterious Mile End Cat Caper Is Not Fiction

Picture above - Patio of Club Social, corner St Viateur & Jeanne Mance.

This morning when I dropped off my son at daycare, I asked Cindy, the childcare specialist, whether she had heard anything about cats disappearing in the area. She said that she had, but that the disappearances had taken place in the fall. As I handed Junior off to Cindy, she called one of her neighbours over and asked her if she knew anything more about the missing cats.

As Junior went into the house with the Cindy, I walked over to the gate to talk to Paula, a short thirty-year-old woman with dark hair and glasses. She said that a woman had put up posters on both sides of Jeanne Mance Street in the Mile End last September. Apparently, a few of Paula's neighbours had lost cats, but she hadn't heard anything about it so far this spring.

Just then Cindy stuck her head out her front door and yelled, "I think they caught the guy who was doing it. Wasn't he killing them and putting them in his freezer?"

"Oh, that's creepy," I said.
"Yes, we were all creeped out," said Paula. "That's the first sign of a sociopath--cruelty to animals."

I asked her if she knew the person who had posted the "Red Alert." Paula knew the woman in passing and thought that she lived on Jeanne Mance, but she wasn't sure of her exact address. As is the case in most neighbourhoods, we talk to a lot of people without ever knowing their full names or anything else about them. The best I could get was a vague description:

"Well, she has red hair. You know the kind of red hair like they had in the eighties." (I didn't, but nodded anyway.)

The woman was regularly seen walking her big black dog on Jeanne Mance. The only other detail I got was that the dog apparently didn't like men. (I guess Blackie had had a bad experience....) Anyway, I felt like I was playing the broken telephone game and was the last person to hear the message.

Before I left, I stuck my head back in Cindy's door to hear the wail of a small child who didn't want to go out. I asked her if she knew anything more about the Mile End cat caper.

Struggling to get a hat on the little one, Cindy said, "Just what I told you, but why don't you google 'Dead cats in freezer' when you get home."

On my way home, I stopped to inquire at the police station but was told they needed a file number to give me any further information. The police officer said that she had heard about the story a year ago, but the file had been opened in a precinct farther north in the city.

In the summer, I spend a lot of time in the Mile End, particularly on Jeanne Mance picking up and dropping off Junior, so I might run into the red-headed woman and her black dog.

As I got home, I thought about the absurdity of Cindy's suggestion to google "dead cats in freezer." But then, I know she is a fan of true crime stories, so maybe this was not an exaggeration.

Anyway, I did the googling, and lo and behold there was a story in the Gazette last August about a Notre-Dame-de-Grace man who ...

Click here for the first installment of the Mysterious Mile End Cat Caper.

Click here for the second installment of the Mysterious Mile End Cat Caper.
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Organic Produce Too Expensive or Unavailable? Meet the Clean 15

I realize that all this doom and gloom about pesticides can get you down. But no need to fret. There's good news for you if you can't afford or find organic produce all the time.

In addition to compiling the list of the Dirty Dozen, the Environmental Working Group has come up with the Clean 15, or the 15 fruit and veggies with the lowest levels of pesticide residue.

Meet the *Clean 15:
1. Onions
2. Avocados
3. Sweet corn
4. Pineapple
5. Mangoes
6. Asparagus
7. Sweet peas
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Papaya
12. Watermelon
13. Broccoli
14. Tomatoes
15. Sweet potatoes
*Source: Environmental Working Group

Keep in mind that onions, avocados and sweet corn have the lowest pesticide levels of all. If it's hard to keep track of both the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 then you can download a wallet-size copy of it here.

In addition, if you would like to stay informed about food pesticide issues, you can subscribe to the EWG's Food & Farm newsletter here.
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3 Simple Q&As about Children and Pesticides

In order to make informed-choices as consumers, we need answers. Yet, when it comes to whether we should buy produce that is organically or conventionally grown, we often hear conflicting reports in the media. As a mother, I wanted to find out more about the effects of pesticides on children.

In my quest for answers, I consulted the web sites of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a US environmental non-profit agency.The EWG advises consumers to buy organic produce whenever possible or, at least, to buy the organic variety of the dirty dozen, the 12 types of produce with the highest pesticide levels.

The EWG argues that studies are often conducted using strictly high doses of pesticides and do not look at low-level exposure over a sustained period of time, exposure from multiple sources or the resulting effects when pesticides come into contact with other harmful substances in our environment.

The EWG also reminds us that the pesticide DDT was considered safe right up until the day the EPA banned it.

Why do pesticides pose a greater risk to children?

Children's vital organs are still developing, and  their enzymatic, metabolic and immune systems cannot metabolize or inactivate toxins the way an adult's systems can. In addition, we all go through critical development periods in which toxins can cause permanent damage to our body's systems.

Why are children subject to greater pesticide exposure than adults?

Because of the foods they eat. Consider some typical "kid food." Children consume more milk, applesauce and orange juice than adults. They also consume more per pound of body weight. Just compare a 180-lb man to a 40-lb child drinking the same amount of orange juice.

In addition, children are more likely to play in the grass and on the floor where pesticides have been applied, and they are a lot more likely to put things in their mouths.

We should also bear in mind that pesticides are used not only on crops on farms, but also in homes, schools, parks and hospitals.

What are some of the adverse effects of pesticides?

Some mild adverse effects of exposure to pesticides are dizziness and nausea; however, over the long-term pesticides can alter development and cause damage to the neurological and reproductive systems.

*The EWG also lists carcinogenic effects.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Pesticides - Topical and Chemical Fact Sheet
Environmental Working Group
Shopper's Guide to Pesticides
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Environmental Working Group Updates Its Dirty Dozen

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington-based environmental non-profit organization, has recently updated its dirty dozen, or its list of fruit and veggies containing the highest levels of pesticides. The EWG claims that you can lower your pesticide exposure by almost 80% by opting for the organically grown variety of produce on the dirty dozen list.

In the above picture, we have five pieces of fruit commonly found at the supermarket. Which of these five innocent-looking types of fruit are actually members of the dirty dozen?

Believe it or not, there are two: apples and pears. Apples rank second on the list, right after peaches, while pears rank twelfth. When purchasing peaches, apples and pears, you should opt for the organically grown variety.

However, you can buy conventionally grown oranges and bananas. Little known fact--the EWG ranks pineapple as the fruit with the lowest concentration of pesticides, even lower than that of mangoes.

In addition, there is some good news for spud lovers. Potatoes, not to mention raspberries and spinach, have cleaned up their act and are no longer on the list. However, kale, carrots and lettuce have unfortunately taken their place.

*Dirty Dozen
1. peaches
2. apples
3. bell peppers
4. celery
5. nectarines
6. strawberries
7. cherries
8. kale
9. lettuce
10. imported grapes
11. carrots
12. pears

*Source: http://www.ewg.org/node/27722
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Eating Locally: Vegetables Year Round

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No surprise to anyone, fresh produce can be expensive for a good part of the year because of the sheer distance it travels before reaching our plates.

And we pay for it in more ways than one. Those avocados from Florida, cauliflower from California and kiwis from New Zealand use a lot of fossil fuels to be shipped and hauled to our dinner tables.

Eating locally is next to impossible in the winter unless you like root vegetables. In the past, my husband has repeatedly suggested frozen vegetables, but I have some pretty grim childhood memories of rubbery or mushy frozen peas and carrots.

However, once I learned that frozen produce had more nutrients than the fresh variety shipped here from warmer climates, I was willing to give it a try. Frozen produce is picked at peak ripeness when it has all its nutrients, whereas its California counterpart is picked and shipped before ever reaching that point. In addition, these veggies further lose their nutrients on their trip north.

I also learned that a Quebec engineer has dramatically improved the freezing process. Frozen vegetables are picked and frozen within a two-hour period. And more good news—-a lot of the veggies come from the Richelieu Valley, a 45-minute drive from Montreal, so we can still eat locally.

Obviously, all of this means nothing if the end product is tasteless. Well, much to my surprise, these frozen veggies exceeded my expectations. Not only was the taste better than the fresh variety available in the winter months, but the consistency was vegetable-like.

I found only two drawbacks. There was no organic line, and the re-sealable bag did not have a recycling symbol or number on it.

But an organic line may not be necessary after all.

According to David Suzuki’s Green Guide, in the interest of reducing green house gas emissions, we should choose local conventionally grown produce over the organically grown variety that is shipped over long distances. Remember, there are only 5 vegetables on the EWG`s Dirty Dozen, and we're not about to buy frozen lettuce, celery or kale.

As for sweet bell peppers, I buy a large basket of the local organic variety at the end of September, and cut and freeze them for the winter. I guess we can do the same with carrots.

It's now possible to eat a variety of local vegetables year round.
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Another Day Off!

Another day off, another mural. This beauty, which my daughter hates, is on St. Denis just north of Bienville. Sorry, I don't have the artists name. I really felt that it depicted how I felt having four days off in a row. Hope you had a great Easter weekend.
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Mile End Cat Caper On Easter Sunday

We did make our trek back to the laundromat, but unfortunately there were no details to be found on the person who posted the Red Alert, nor were there any lost kitty posters on the wall-sized bulletin board. The Red Alert, however, was still posted in the front window. It seemed pointless to conduct a stake-out on Saturday night if we did not know how many cats had disappeared, or the general vicinity they had disappeared from.

We walked over to St. Laurent to speak to a store owner whom I once consulted last year about guerrilla gardeners in the Mile End, but he seemed to be busy trying to impress a customer. And when he saw us, he turned the key in the lock and pointed to the "closed" sign. Yeah, Mr. Lady's man, we got the message. We weren't planning on buying anything anyway.

At this point, our case went cold, and decorating Easter eggs suddenly became infinitely more appealing. You can view our chefs d'oeufs at the top of the page.

It looks as though we might get more answers from the SPCA, the police, and some more informal contacts in the neighbourhood. You know, those who are likely to know the ins and outs of the hood as it were--the gossips.

I'm starting to think that maybe the catnapping is urban legend. A lot of cats just run away, and we have seen no evidence of an overabundance of lost kitty posters, but we'll keep our eyes peeled.

Anyway, we will keep everyone updated about any new developments.

Happy Easter!

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St. Viateur Street Art

Mural by cafegraffiti.net
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See a one-minute video of Arpi painting a mural from start to finish. I've always wanted to see the different steps that went into mural painting. You'll also see two of Montreal's finest who took part in the video. The police officers were not in their protesting camouflage and red baseball caps, so this video must have been made more than a year ago.

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What Exactly Is Guerrilla Gardening?

Fed up with rubble- and litter-strewn surroundings, militant green thumbs are plotting new floral strikes in their quest for green domination.

After a long cold winter, we await spring with bated breath only to find our common areas dirty and littered. April showers wash away some of the city’s dirt and greyness, but unfortunately they don’t bring forth May flowers. However, according to Patricia, a guerrilla gardener from the Mile End, the times they are a changin’…

In recent years, some people may have noticed the number of flowers and edible plants springing up in unusual places. This is obviously not the work of our fair city, but of insurgent gardening cells that have been busy conducting covert planting operations.

Patricia informed me that some favourite places for clandestine cultivation are “back alleys, patches next to sidewalks, vacant lots, empty city planters and medians.” She adds that although digs in public spaces are technically against the law, they not only improve public property, but also keep out drug dealers and criminals who are less likely to carry on activities in areas that are clearly cared for by residents.

The guerrilla gardening manifesto is aimed at furthering the green revolution by converting dead public sites into esthetically pleasing green oases. While some guerrilla gardeners see their mission as reclaiming common spaces from encroaching corporate imagery and its endless message of buy, buy, buy, others quite simply have a green thumb and lack gardening space in the city. In Patricia’s case, she has a foot in both camps and says that both factions, regardless of their motivation, share the common goal of urban beautification.

According to Patricia, guerrilla gardening groups usually take root in the spring when members get together to scout out prospective sites. “Scouting is vital to the success of a mission,” says Patricia, “as the group must first determine the site’s soil type, the amount of sun it receives, and if any extra soil is required.” Rebel gardeners also choose sites close to home to make regular watering and weeding easier. In addition, neighbours are less likely to blow the whistle on familiar faces.

The most successful cells have a seasoned gardener among their ranks who advises members on the types of seeds or seedlings that will produce the most bountiful blossoms. Experienced cells like to take “before” and “after” pictures of their work and keep a record of what they planted with a view to creating an even more spectacular Eden the following year.

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“The fun part is planning the attack, or the plant arrangement, and the actual dig,” says Patricia. Discretion being the better part of valour, most groups actually do their clearing and digging, and subsequent weeding and watering, at night in order to avoid attracting any unnecessary attention. Gardeners arrive armed with their flashlights, gardening tools, seeds, clippings, seedlings, watering cans, composting, extra soil and extra-strength garbage bags for litter and debris. “A good cell has about five people because of all the things you have to lug to the site,” says our resident green thumb. Group members must first clear the area of garbage, till the soil, and pull out any big rocks, which can later be used to create a border. Patricia adds that anyone wishing to try this should bear in mind that clearing usually takes much longer than the actual planting.

Planting is what everyone looks forward to. Although there are many floral freedom fighters who plant strictly flowers, some Johnny Appleseeds take the eclectic approach and plant edible gardens by combining herbs, vegetables and edible flowers, while other purists opt to reintroduce native plants. Having already adapted to the local soil and climate conditions, native plants do not need to be watered or require any composting, and these hardy plants thrive in poor soil.

“Whatever weapons of mass creation you and your cell decide on, floral, edible or native, true guerrilla gardeners always water, weed and clean up after themselves,” says Patricia. “After all, we’re here to remedy urban eyesores, not create more.”

Finally, some gardening activists choose to put up signs on nearby telephone poles or fences to let people know who has actually conducted the covert operation to beautify their neighbourhood. "CLICK TO ENLARGE"

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Dora the Explorer: The Power of a Petition

Early in March, toy maker Mattel released a silhouette of its 10-year-old version of Dora the Explorer, a hugely popular pre-school cartoon character known around the world. Some parents were outraged to see the outline of what appeared to be a tween Dora with long flowing hair and a short skirt, emphasizing a pair of long shapely legs. The prototype was originally to be unveiled in October of 2009; however, there was a change in plans after a flurry of negative press and a petition.

This "tweening" of Dora caused Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb, the authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketing Schemes, to start a Let's Go: No Makeover for Dora petition to show Mattel that parents, educators, activists and girls did not want to see Dora without her compass, backpack, sneakers or shorts. In their book, psychologists Lamb and Brown write about Dora as a positive role model for girls because of her inquisitive, adventurous and courageous spirit. Their concern was that the tween Dora would be little more than a "fashionista, excited about secrets and crushes, and going shopping." The authors believe that this type of role model leads young girls to believe that their outward appearance is more important than developing other skills and interests.

In the end, this petition and message resonated with many people, and 13,413 signatures later, Mattel decided to unveil its doll early, six months before the initial date in fact. As it turned out, the much maligned mini-skirt was a tunic. Her hair was indeed long and flowing, but she wasn't wearing any make-up, and there were no heels. She was wearing ballet slipper flats.

Now would she be jumping into any mud puddles with these flats? Nope. Would she be trekking through the woods or "exploring" the back country in that tunic and leggings? Very much doubt it. Wouldn't the necklace and bracelet get caught on branches, or just get in the way? Yep. Ditto for the hairband. Smells to me like there will be a line of Dora accessories. Too bad it won't include a compass, map or some hiking boots. You know, something useful.

Okay, so at least she doesn't look like a Bratz doll or Barbie. But nor does she look like...an Explorer.

In my heart of hearts, I can't help thinking that Dora would have looked much more like her competition, the Bratz, if there hadn't been so much negative press or this petition. It just goes to show that blogs and e-petitions have a lot more influence than we might think.

For the perspective of another blogger who has written extensively about Dora visit Viva La Feminista. She also addresses the issue of Mattel's delatina-izing of Dora.

To find out what Petitionists Lamb and Brown think about Mattel's final product, visit their blog Packaging Girlhood. They break it down into four compelling points.

A Yahoo news report also mentions the e-petition in its coverage of Mattel's tweening of Dora, but I was surprised to see the headline,"After Dora uproar, Nick and Mattel soothe moms." I, for one, was not soothed by tween Dora.
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Montreal Police Take Action at the Corner of Rivard and Laurier East

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On our way to school this morning, I noticed two of Montreal's finest stationed at the corner of Rivard and Laurier Avenue East, right next to our favourite neighbourhood gathering spot, la Boîte Gourmande or "le café." For several weeks, I've noticed that drivers crossing Laurier Avenue do so at excessive speeds during rush hour, at the same time as many neighbourhood children are walking to school alone.

I've discussed this concern with the St. Denis Crossing Guard, affectionately known as Madame Météo-Média because of her penchant for talking about anything related to the weather. This morning, as we crossed St. Denis, the Crossing Guard told us that, after calling the police for several weeks about this problem, apparently a concern of many parents and not just mine, the Montreal Police Department had sent over a few officers.

Kudos to our concerned Crossing Guard!

After dropping off my daughter and returning back across Rivard, I saw an irate woman waving a ticket in her hand, stomping back to her SUV and yelling in shrill tones about her "outrageous" ticket. I can see how this would not be a police officer's favourite job. I'm sure they like to give tickets about as much as we like to get them. Anyway, the police officer took it in stride.

I thanked both officers on my way home and explained again why their services were needed on that particular corner. I also complimented one officer on her super funky blue camouflage pants (Click on the picture to get a better look).

Obviously as an essential service, the Montreal Police do not have the right to strike. They can, however, protest by wearing camouflage pants and red baseball caps instead of their full uniforms. Throughout Montreal, you can see camouflage in a rainbow of colours. I have to say that I love the sense of humour and the cool visual effect of this type of protest, which is a much more positive way to say I disagree.
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Some Street Art in Our Neighbourhood

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On a walk around our neighbourhood today, I could see all the signs that spring had sprung. Now that I can recognize some of my neighbours without their multiple layers of winter clothes, I feel as though it is time to get back outside and reconnect with the people and things (won't elaborate here) in our area. The Unexpected Twists and Turns will head back to its roots, our neighbourhood, in and around the National Theatre School.

The above creation has weathered the winter remarkably well. I just wish that I could find the artist(s) so that I could at least mention some names. If you, dear readers, have any idea who this artist(s) might be, please leave it in the comments section.

The mural below, courtesy of FunkillcollAB, with the scooter girl is located next to the Boîte Gourmande on Laurier Ave. East, one of our favourite places to meet friends, see Montreal media personalities and, most importantly, do homework. This is my daughter's favourite after school venue, and I like it because the owner makes the most delicious latté bar none. (Okay, to avoid any marital strife, my husband makes the best coffee, but if he's at work, I go to the Boîte Gourmande.)

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Mysterious Mile End Cat Caper

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On my walk home along St Viateur today, I noticed this unusual posting in the window of the local laundromat. Besides being used for the obvious purposes, the business is known for its wall-sized bulletin board, where you can buy, trade, rent or lease just about anything in the area. If you have lost a cat, this is one of the best places to post your lost kitty posters.

Today, however, there was this "Red Alert" in the front window, warning area cat owners of a new kind of back-alley prowler. It's not a cat burglar, but rather a pair of fiendish fellows who abduct felines. I kid you not! Between midnight and 5 am, two white males in their twenties have been seen in the alley next to the L-mat kidnapping unsuspecting neighborhood cats out for a midnight stroll.

The Red Alert warns area pet owners to be on the lookout for the young white catnappers in a mysterious white van. It also advises people to keep kitty indoors, not only in the wee hours of the morning, but at all times, regardless of the compelling complaints owners may have to endure.

A concerned cat lover has already opened a file with local police regarding this strange and troubling phenomenon, and urges anyone with any further information to contact police so that this cat caper can be solved once and for all.

(CRIME SCENE of reported cat abductions)
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What We Can Learn From Oakland, California

Last week, I scanned the headlines and saw that four police officers and another man, Lovelle Mixon, had been killed in a shoot-out in Oakland, California. I have to admit that I cringed and quickly moved on, not wanting to give it any further thought.

My reaction is what I have been pondering for a week. Why did I not want to know any more about this issue? The answer was relatively simple. I had a feeling that it was going to take me, and everyone else, down a familiar road of a well-traveled narrative, which would stir strong emotions and further escalate a situation that was already out of control. I guess I was trying to avoid the complexity, the sadness and the hopelessness of the situation.

The catalyst in my reflection was a post I read by Samhita, a courageous blogger who attempted to offer another perspective on these unfortunate deaths, that of police brutality against Oakland's visible minorities. Although emotionally invested in her native Oakland, Samhita offered an alternative narrative that few would have dared to post.

In the end, I wanted to know more about Lovelle Mixon. There was no shortage of details on Mixon's past or why the four police officers were trying to apprehend him. As I dug further, I learned that Oakland had a bloody history between its police force and citizens, which began with a shoot-out with the Black Panthers in the 1960s. The legacy of that history could have been a contributing factor in the tragic deaths of five people last week.

In just a few minutes, I found the following information on Oakland:
- Population of Oakland: 400,000.
- One of the most culturally diverse cities in the US. Over 150 languages are spoken in Oakland.
- A report in USA Today of police brutality: "There were 10 [shootings] last year, including six fatalities [...]. No officers involved in shootings since 2004 were charged with crimes, and so far none have been fired."
- The murder of Oscar Grant who was shot in the back by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer on January 1, 2009. This shooting was videotaped by another commuter.
(CAUTION: this video is graphic.)

I know that it may seem strange for me to blog about a city that I have never been to before, but the distance makes it easier to talk about. When a police officer killed a young man, Fredy Villanueva, in a park on a sunny Saturday morning in Montreal North last summer, I was speechless. When a riot took place days later, I was stunned. How could a minor incident in a park escalate into a death and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage in just a few days? There had obviously been a problem festering for some time, but could we have stopped it? Were there any telltale signs that we ignored?

In a few days, several studies and recommendations are to be released on the shooting of Fredy Villanueva and the rioting that ensued in Montreal North. Unless some prompter action is taken, we may have a lot more problems on our hands. If in doubt, we only have to look at last week's tragic events in Oakland for a not-so-gentle reminder.
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