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New Years News

Ringside View of Underside of Van Horne Overpass
New Years is celebrated a little differently when you have children, but it's still a time of thinking about future goals. I have just four days left of my eleven-day vacation, and other than blogging, I appear to have crossed out very little on my to-do list.

As this is my last year living on the Plateau, I decided that I would photograph some area murals before they were defaced and some little corners of my neighbourhood that I have fond memories of. Believe it or not, next to the train tracks and the Van Horne overpass, there are plenty of artistic undertakings.

Holding Up the Overpass
Day-of-the-Dead Style Mural













My husband and I have been working on a special project for about two months, a new visual blog that, in theory, was to require very little writing except for the basic template and a line or two about the work and artists we will be featuring. We hope to provide a daily visual fix for visual addicts.

Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I think so, but my husband seems to think that once I get the hang of it, I'll be able to knock off a post a day. At this particular point, I'm not so confident, but maybe it's just my pre-launch jitters.

Here's to jumping into a new project and the New Year feet first!

Happy New Year and please drop by our new blog: The Day's Visual Picks

Stay tuned for our official launch.










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Year 2: Top 10 posts of 2010

Yesterday was my official second blogiversary, but I got my dates confused, which is apt to happen when you're on vacation. This has been another fabulous year and for some unknown reason I went back to reading and found myself writing a lot of reviews. I also discovered that I liked making my own non-toxic cosmetics, the perfect type of recipe, the one you can't eat. I also struggled with a Twitter addiction last February, which I eventually beat. But did reading replace it...

A lot of people thought that I'd lose interest in blogging, but the opposite is true. The more I blog, the more I like it. But I've discovered that Blogger, my current blogging platform, has a lot of limitations. I may change it early in the New Year, so don't be surprised if one day you arrive at a brand new blog

I'd like to welcome all my new followers and readers who joined me this year. A large part of my traffic now comes from Blogger itself. This will be a big year because we are moving three metro stations north of our current location, which is sad yet exciting news. I also hope to broaden my blogging horizons and create my own vidcast (a blog post by video). That is, once I figure out all the video features on my camera. In case you didn't know: last year I did a podcast interview with Sonja Ahlers for Bitch Magazine, the Make-Believe edition.

Happy New Year!

The following were my most popular posts in 2010:

8 Symptoms of Internet Addiction
As you'll see, I nearly failed the test. But more importantly how did you do?
The Montreal Bixi v. the Denver B-Cycle
A friend of mine reported on her experience with the Denver B-Cycle and compared it with our fair city's Bixi.
Reads From Men
I'm sure that this post garnered a lot of attention because one of the writer's whose book I reviewed posted it on Facebook.
A Must-See Cirque Eloize's iD
Montreal is well-known for its circus companies. This is a lesser known company but nonetheless an exciting show.
Long-Gun Registry: What's Going On
Probably the political issue of the year in Canada. If you followed my blog, you'll see that I changed my position once I realized that this was a wedge issue used to divide the left.
For the Love of Vinyl
This was a major discovery in my hood. This is a fun way to spend the afternoon and skip down memory lane.
Return of the Angels
Our neighbourhood church, St-Enfant Jésus, is anxiously awaiting the restoration of its outdoor angels.
Films for Girls: The Bechdel-Inspired Girl-Positive Test
If you think that women have acquired equality, use this test the next time you watch a film, tv program, music video or read a book and see who the spotlight is usually on.
Bixi: Success For All?
Montreal's public bike system has been wildly successful. Now find out what our neighbourhood bicycle retailers think of it.

Which was your favourite post?



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How to Skate Russian-Style

Christmas Socks

We took my daughter out to skate two nights ago, and I attempted to give her a skating lesson. I taught her how to start out in the "T-position" or with one skate at a 90-degree angle to the other. Her skating improved tremendously in just a few lengths of the rink, but balance was still a problem. I then instructed her to try to skate with her hands behind her back until she got her footwork down. That helped too. However, whenever I turned my back she went right back to her usual walking on the ice.

A-ha! The light went on. She doesn't think that I actually know what I'm talking about. With this in mind, when we got home, I went on YouTube and found this gem of a how-to video. The instructor validated my "T-position" instruction. However, as you'll see, he has a few problems with skating terminology and repeatedly refers to it as "pushing."

Now, I pass you to skate instructor Boris from somewhere behind former iron curtain:






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What It Is by Lynda Barry

My friend Marie had told me about Lynda Barry when I was looking for girl-positive comics for my daughter. You may recall my post on the Bedchel-test for films, which I tailored to suit media for little girls and christened it the Girl-Positive Test. In order for comics, tv programs, books and movies to pass this test, they have to feature at least two girl characters with names. These girls must discuss their hopes and dreams, and these hopes and dreams must not ultimately lead to the attention of a boy. Sounds easy enough to pass, right? You'd be surprised. This test is even harder to pass when it comes to comics, my daughter's preferred reading genre.

Anyway, as chance would have it, I found that Drawn & Quarterly carried almost all of Barry's earlier comics, which I picked up today. My previous efforts to find the comics featuring Marlys, Maybonee, Arna, Arnold and Freddie were fruitless, so I had to opt for Barry's more recent book What it is; however, I was by no means disappointed with this book. In fact, the first adjective that comes to mind to describe it would be inspirational.

The book is replete with childhood memories, autobiographical comics, collage, vintage ads and notes from a teacher, and finally a series of exercises on how to get the writer in you to start writing again. Barry even gives a list of supplies you'll need, which includes a kitchen timer with a gentle buzzer so that it doesn't scare the hell out of you. I've tried a few of the exercises myself, and they're an entertaining way to start writing.

Barry's Inner Critic (Click to enlarge)
Barry starts her book with a funny two-page panel about her own inability to move forward on her book. Her partner asks her the obvious question, "Are you worried about your book?" to which she replies, "Oh, there's my book, the war, the laundry, things I said 15 years ago, the environment, my double chin, unanswered mail, what an ass I am, what a dirty house I have--and I've had 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' playing in my head for days." Who among us cannot relate to procrastination in all of its pressing manifestations.

Throughout the book, Barry ponders the essence of an image, an experience, a memory, a realization, attachment, imagination and the past, providing the reader with some stimulating and humourous food for thought. The author reflects on her childhood memories of play, which are both funny and sad, and eventually draws the conclusion that we stop drawing, writing, singing, acting, etc, when we develop our inner critic and self-consciousness. In another hilarious comic, Barry confesses that in 6th grade she quit taking hula dancing because people always laughed when she told them that she took it very seriously.

To say that I liked this book would be an understatement. I enjoyed it enough to buy four more of Barry's books and purchase tickets to see her speak at the Ukrainian Federation on January 15. But now for the more pressing question: did Barry's book pass the Girl-Positive Test? For starters, this book is more for big boys and girls, but she definitely wrote about her hopes and dreams, and these hopes and dreams were definitely for herself and not to garner the attention of a boy. She does present her teachers in the book to whom she voices her dreams, and those teachers were both women and named, so this is indeed a Girl-Positive book, but I think that any aspiring writer, male or female, would find it both helpful and entertaining.

Related posts
The Bedchel-Inspired Girl Positive Test
AYA: the Secrets Come Out
The Curious Case of the Communist Jell-O Box (zine)
Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati
Some Thoughts on Canada Reads
Expozine's Broken Pencil
Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis
Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
Comics: Girls, Boys and Reading
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Christmas Day Fairmount Way

Beautiful Lamps
Every December 25, we finish off our gift giving by a walk out to buy some bagels. This tradition started one Christmas when I was looking for a store that was open to buy bread. The only business in operation was Fairmount Bagel, and I had to get in a line that snaked out the door. With the scent of roasting sesame seeds in the air and the warmth radiating from the wood-fired ovens, I went whole hog and bought cream cheese, light of course, which I was later disparaged for, lox and capers. My daughter loved the smoked salmon and has asked for that pink stuff ever since.

Wonderful Thai Restaurant
On this particular Christmas day, I was engrossed in What it is, a book by alternative comic artist Lynda Barry, my kids were playing with their new toys and my husband was trying to finish his 3D-animation holiday message, so I didn't make it out of the house until after dark. My daughter, now eight, had better things to do, like watch The Grinch for the eighth time, and declined the offer to join me. Yes, you're right Lucie; she's already pulling away from me.

Bon, il y avait "un" chat!
Anyway, there was an upside to going for a walk by myself. I was able to go window shopping on Laurier Avenue West and take pictures, which wouldn't have been an option with my daughter. The gentrified and decidedly Outremont version of St-Viateur, Laurier West is too pricey and precious for actual shopping unless of course you enjoy shuddering, cringing and repeating prices in outraged tones. Nevertheless, the merchants really do a great job of window dressing. And last night, il n'y avait pas un chat, so I could look for as long as I wanted without feeling conspicuous.

Destination
As I looked at the shiny objects I remembered buying overpriced items as a twenty-year-old, just because I could. It was in open rebellion to the tightfisted habits of my mom, who would spend three times as long to find the same thing at a fraction of the price. As per usual, she was right. In the end, all of these must-have knick-knacks ended up at a garage sale, fetching a symbolic price. Once I wised up and realized that I could do many more things with my money than increase some vendor's profit margin, I adopted my mother's penny-pinching ways. Besides, I'd amassed enough odds and sods that I could stop shopping altogether.

Even after my husband introduced me to the third floor of the now-defunct Warshaws, I could not be swayed. We already had enough crap...Which reminded me, as I walked over to Fairmount, where the hell was I going to put all the "stuff" we got for Christmas this year. Right next to the treadmill, I guess.

Related posts:
A Sense of Humour With the Wilensky's Special
S.W. Welch: the Nicolski Coincidence
The Lure of Fishing on Bernard
Christmas in Parc Lahaie


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A Crafty Take On Nancy Drew

My New Spiral Journal
This past weekend was the Puces Pop, an annual DIY arts and craft fair held at the St-Enfant Jesus Church. This year, I was taken by a certain wire bound recycled journal that I just had to have. Julie Epp takes vintage hardcover books, removes the front and back covers and uses them to make a new hardcover journal. Then she adds sixty sheets of paper and wire binding. Voila, you have a recycled one-of-a-kind journal. I opted for the journal with the 1961 hardcover of the Nancy Drew Mystery: The Secret of the Red Gate Farm. As some of you may recall, Nancy Drew novels came with three sketches of our heroine inside in some precarious situation. Epp actually takes these pages out and adds them to the journals too. You can see more of Epp's journals on her Etsy page here.

Nancy Among Cult Members
I had a lot of fond memories of reading Nancy Drew as a child, but I didn't necessarily want to have the hardcover book. I was more than pleased to have the cover and a few sketches as a keepsake. I later discovered that I was not the only Nancy Drew fan. Two of my friends are too. One friend is ten years older, while the other is 10 years younger. All three generations of us had read a fair bit of Nancy Drew in our youth. What was the appeal? Well, for starters there were very few role models for girls in pop culture, but we all had slightly different reasons for liking the stylish sleuth.
Nancy was completely taken by surprise. She knew that she had never seen the man before, for she would not have forgotten such a cruel face. His steel-gray eyes bore straight into her. Nancy was so bewildered she could think of nothing to say. (Reverse side of a sketch page included in my new journal.)

I was addicted to the suspense, and I liked our heroine's freedom and the fact that she always followed up on clues. My friend Lucie said that she liked that Nancy was both resourceful and proactive, never waiting around for permission. My friend Renata said that she liked our role model's independence, fearlessness and style. She also liked her close friendships with George and Bess, and how they could always depend on each other.

1931 Version
We all believed that Nancy Drew was written by Carolyn Keene, but as I discovered, this was just a pseudonym. Mildred Wirt Benson penned the first 23 of the original 30 Nancy Drew books. Benson was the first woman and student to graduate with a Master's of Journalism from the University of Iowa in 1927. She opted for a feisty independent girl character instead of the traditional finishing-school style heroine of Harriet Adams, who also wrote Nancy Drew under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. A believer in equal opportunity for girls, Benson wrote her first Nancy Drew book at age 24 and was paid $125. There were a whole slew of ghost writers who followed Mildred Benson, but she was the one who established Nancy's resilient character.

The original 1931 cover of The Secret of Red Gate Farm was the work of RH Tandy, while the 1961 cover was done by Bill Gillies (I can still see his name on the cover of my journal). Apparently, the story was revised slightly in 1961, but since then, this version was still being published in 2009.



For more info on Nancy Drew, I found this great website: www.nancydrewsleuth.com

Other DIY and crafty posts
Give Your Bike Some Urban Style
The Joy of Crafts
DIY: Home Spa Salt Scrub
DIY: Shower Gel
Smart Design Mart: Cara Carmina and Jackie Bassett
Not So Crafty Undertaking
Cara Carmina's Magical Dolls



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Jello & Its Communist Past


by Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow
What could possibly be the connection between imitation raspberry Jell-O, communism and the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?  I was intrigued. After all, what self-respecting leftist would not be interested in the case of the Rosenbergs, who at the height of the Red Scare were convicted of smuggling secrets to the Russians?  The Curious Case of the Communist Jell-O Box (CCCJB) is a political zine by Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow, which folds out into a full-sized poster, but for maximum enjoyment you have to read it as you unfold. In other words, the story unfolds as you do.

The authors use the Jell-O box to great effect. This seemingly innocuous product and its unlikely association with communism initially lighten the darker theme of espionage and subsequent execution.  The ubiquitous gelatin-dessert box then takes on a more sinister significance when presented at trial as a sophisticated communications device. Yet, this evidence, which was central to the prosecution’s case, was never recovered, and unsurprisingly when shown a replica under cross-examination and asked whether they recognized the box, the witnesses all answered “yes.”

In CCCJB, Hoerger and Partlow write that the show trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were used to fuel public paranoia about communists and lefties in order to give the FBI and its leader,  J. Edgar Hoover, greater powers to infiltrate and use extra-legal means to quell any real or apparent leftist  threat. If you read closely, you’ll see that the writers do in fact raise the possibility of our late-defendants’ guilt, but it seems there’s a larger message in this zine—the unnecessary demonizing of the left or anyone who dared to raise the virtues of truth and justice. Sound familiar… 


The Authors by E. Chris Lynch
Your inner geek will be tickled pink with reproductions of the now-declassified transcripts from the 1950 Grand Jury trial and a declassified CIA memo that supplies background material on how to counter Pro-Rosenberg propaganda. The collage of period newspaper clippings and sensational headlines from both sides of the political spectrum with their scratchy and at times illegible letters give the zine a genuine 1950s look and feel. 

CCCJB left me wanting to find out more about the Rosenbergs and the two children they left behind, and a link to further reading about the case would have been appreciated. But overall this was a well planned undertaking and a lot of entertainment for just two bucks. I checked out the authors’ website, and they have other food-related political zines with other declassified documents…excellent…excellent!

This review was cross-posted on Elevate Difference 

Related posts
Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati
Some Thoughts on Canada Reads
Expozine's Broken Pencil
Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis
Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
Comics: Girls, Boys and Reading

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Christmas in Parc Lahaie

Woolly Dude

Gravelly-voiced Singer and Hubby

Very Discreet Elf

Roasting Marshmallows





Every year in front of St-Enfant-Jesus Church in Parc Lahaie, there's a festive family area. When we arrived at about 3:30 pm, it was almost dusk. A woman with a gravelly Janet Joplin voice was singing bluesy music in a heated shed with a large window, men were selling Christmas trees, two sheep were eating hay, and there was someone roasting chestnuts over an open-fire (I kid you not.) There were also people roasting weenies, and much to my daughter's delight, there were marshmallows for sale, 6 for $1, sticks included. It would be hard for many to imagine that we were smack in the middle of the Island of Montreal, and apart from the money for marshmallows, it was free, but more importantly, it was fun. 

I couldn't help but notice all the young parents with infants, looking tired and relieved that they were finally listening to adult music with other adults actually "present." They seemed too tired for conversation, but they had made it outdoors nonetheless. Kudos to the woman who braved the cold and breastfed her baby next to the open fire. A feat not matched by many in frigid temperatures.


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Review: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

At the office, I started an Off-Canada Reads series and invited other co-workers to join, hoping that at least four would be interested so that we could each buy one of the five finalist books and then pass them around. In the end, six people were interested, so we decided that we would choose two other books from the original top 40 that we thought should have made it into the top five. Those books were Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall and Heave by Christy Ann Conlin.

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

I was dying to get my hands on this book, not only because I had read good reviews, but also because I love graphic novels, and I wanted to read the first graphic novel to make it into the top five of the Canada Reads series.

I read the Collected Essex County in one sitting. In Book #1, Tales from the Farm, we meet Lester and his uncle. Lester's mother has died of cancer, and Lester is left to his uncle Kenny. Obviously, because they live on a farm, Lester has chores, which he doesn't always do, much to the dismay of his uncle. Instead, Lester escapes to an imaginary world where he's a superhero, perhaps as a way to stave off his grief. He eventually meets Jimmy Lebeuf, who is rumoured to be somewhat slow after a head injury in hockey. Jimmy befriends Lester, but Kenny is opposed to the friendship for reasons that the reader later discovers.

Lemire's drawings are scratchy lines that convey a considerable amount of nuance and quickly pull the reader into the story. The angles of his frames sometimes give us the impression of a very detailed storyboard for a beautiful short film. Lemire is also very good at crafting natural dialogue.

The first book is a wonderful beginning to a beautiful and moving story, perhaps the best of the three in the Collected Essex County. Although the characters change throughout the three books, they are all connected by narrative threads and Essex County itself. The exact relationship of all the characters is only disclosed towards the end.

Unfortunately, the second book Ghost Stories was a disappointment. The reader meets an old Lou Lebeuf, who is hard of hearing and suffers from dementia. His flashbacks unveil the story of his youth. Twenty-year-old Lou moves to Toronto and is eventually followed by his brother Vince. They play hockey on a losing team, which eventually finds itself on a winning streak in no small part due to the playing ability of Lou and Vince. Sound familiar? Vince and his girlfriend eventually decide to leave Toronto and move back to Essex County, but not before there is an indiscretion on Lou's part. This transgression keeps Lou in Toronto for 25 years without returning to Essex County even to visit his mother. He works as a TTC streetcar driver and leads a lonely life, never feeling quite at home in Toronto.

Book 3, the Country Nurse, brings us back to Essex County, and although this book was enjoyable as the reader discovers more about the relationships between the characters, it couldn't make up for the lack of depth in Ghost Stories. I can understand that losing a hockey career to injury was a disappointment for young Lou and that he harboured a lot of guilt for his indiscretion, but the depth of these emotions is not explored in the story. And let's not forget--this was no small twinge of guilt. It kept Lou from Essex County for 25 years.

Unfortunately, the hockey narrative has been used far too many times without ever serving up anything new. If Ghost Stories had shed some light on Lou's feelings of loneliness, regret and the profound disappointment of losing his hockey career, this story might have worked. Even when Lou returns to Essex County, his 25 years in Toronto do not appear to have transformed the 20-year-old, except of course, for a drinking problem.

Overall, I would say that Jeff Lemire may one day become a great storyteller. We can definitely see his potential in Tales from the Farm and Country Nurse. He also has a beautiful way of weaving together narrative threads, but he hasn't hit his stride yet.

In terms of a great Canadian graphic novelist, look no further than Michel Rabagliati and his Paul series. My favourite, Paul Goes Fishing, has the depth and maturity that was lacking in Ghost Stories. I wanted to love Essex County, but unfortunately I didn't.

Other Reviews and Canada Reads posts
Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati
Some Thoughts on Canada Reads
Expozine's Broken Pencil
Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis
Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
Comics: Girls, Boys and Reading


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A Cool Option for Winter Sports

When we think of winter sports, we often think of expense, particularly parents who have children who sometimes grow out of their skates and skis before the end of the season. Even if you buy second-hand equipment, you still have a pair to get rid of every year.

Today we went to La Poubelle du Ski (Ski Garbage) to find skates for my three- and eight-year-old. I've heard that La Poubelle is a Montreal institution, but I'd never been inside until this afternoon.

It wasn't exactly luxurious. Makeshift signs from quickly cut cardboard boxes were plastered everywhere announcing liquidation prices. Stock was piled to the ceiling, and there were large dusty stuffed animals suspended from the ceiling to entertain the kids. I saw everything from winter socks, hats, gloves, snowsuits for the entire family, snowboards, skis, snowshoes and boots on our way to the skates. In addition, the crowd was decidedly more dangerous armed with skis walking down relatively narrow aisles and coming around blind corners.

There was at least 10 people in front of us in line, but service was fast. My kids sat on sinking cardboard boxes to try on their skates. Their grins bore testimony to the excitement of this event. The skates were in good condition, and I was surprised when the clerk told me that they cost $20.00. For the season, that is. They were rentals, and we had to return them only in September of 2011. What a great cheap solution instead of buying used ones and having to get rid of them the next year.

Founded in 1964, the Poubelle du Ski sells the previous years equipment at liquidation prices in addition to used equipment, and as we discovered today, they also rent for the entire season.

Poubelle du Ski, 8278 St-Laurent, Metro Jarry

Related posts

Franco Gattuso's Drogheria Fine
St-Viateur: the Polish Bazaar
The Mile End Buzz Around Beekeeping
For the Love of Vinyl
Airing Our Dirty Laundry
Filming on St-Viateur

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Franco Gattuso's Drogheria Fine

On this mild December morning on my way to Vito's butcher shop on Fairmount West, I spotted a funky new business, la Drogheria Fine, which does not mean fine drugs or fine hardware supplies. Instead, the tiny 12-by-12 foot shop specializes in the sale of unprocessed olive oil and tomato sauce. Owner Franco Gattuso professes to make the sauce himself. However, the sauce is called La Salsa della Nonna or Granny's Sauce...I was tempted to say, "My Granny what big teeth you have," but it could well be just granny's recipe. Anyhoo.

Franco imports the unprocessed olive oil from Oliveto in the Calabria region of Italy, also the birth place of his mother. He then bottles the oil in recycled glass water bottles. You can still see the sediment in the bottom. (I'm dying to know what it tastes like.) The tomato sauce comes in three sizes of mason jars, and the smallest costs $5.00.

"These are all natural ingredients, so it's only good for six weeks," said Gattuso.

In other words, there are no preservatives to extend the shelf life. I spied the best-before date on the jar in a young girl's handwriting, Jan. 15, 2011.

Unfortunately, the shop doesn't accept interact or credit, which warranted a trip to the bank. But the trip was worth it. We just had the tomato sauce for lunch, and it was indeed delicious.

Notice the espresso machine in the background. This will be for serving customers in the near future. The shop is certainly worth the visit, but be prepared to crowd in close to your neighbours. When I returned from my jaunt to the bank, there were five adults and a golden retriever in the store, all with very pressing questions.

Drogheria Fine, 68 Fairmount West, Mile End.


Other Mile End-related posts
St-Viateur: the Polish Bazaar
The Mile End Buzz Around Beekeeping
For the Love of Vinyl
Airing Our Dirty Laundry
Filming on St-Viateur
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Lucie's Zesty Tester

Last night, we were Christmas shopping at the Salon des métiers d'art, a huge annual arts and crafts fair at Place Bonaventure, and I was telling friends Lucie and Carine about the shower gel I made. Lucie had taken my post about the toxins in commercial cosmetics to heart, even going so far as to print the David Suzuki Foundation's wallet-size dirty dozen list and carry it around with her. As we started reading labels on cosmetics at the Dans un Jardin display, Lucie expressed an interest in trying some of my shower gel. (Mr. Burns...excellent!)

Lucie is the best person for giving feedback, and I know that she will give it to me straight without any social filters to make her comments more palatable, which is what I prefer. I cringe at the thought of having friends peek out from behind the curtains as I walk up their front step. "Oh, here she comes...Listen..T-tell her that the gel was wonderful," says one. "You mean that stuff we threw out?" asks the other. Anyway...

Without getting too technical, I want to explain the five essential classes of ingredients needed in a skin care cleaning product:

1) Emollients: They protect the skin from dryness and act as a healing agent.
2) Humectants: They keep your skin moist and draw in moisture from the air.
3) Emulsifiers: They hold all the products together that don't usually mix. Sometimes instead of using an emulsifier, you're simply instructed to shake the product before using.
4) Surfactants: These are used to break down oils and separate them from dirt.
5) Preservatives: They extend the life of the product.

Source: Natural Skin Care Authority

The following is the recipe for the shower gel that I have been using for the past month. I think it's great, but I'd like another opinion. The scent is fresh, clean and lemony, but it doesn't linger after you rinse.

Shower Gel
1/4 cup (125 ml) of castile liquid soap (Surfactant)
1/4 cup (125 ml) of aloe vera gel (Emulsifier, Emollient and Preservative) Aloe Vera also acts as a thickener.
1 teaspoon of glycerin (Humectant and Emulsifier)
1/4 cup (125 ml) of sweet almond oil (Emollient)
A few drops of lemon essential oil (Preservative and Scent)
A few drops of ylang ylang essential oil, which is a recommended mix with lemon. (Scent)

Pssst...ylang ylang is apparently an aphrodisiac. Do you think I should tell her? Read all about the properties of essential oils ylang ylang here and lemon here.

All these ingredients were purchased at the Tau health food store on St. Denis. I have used a reusable plastic beverage container with an easy to pour spout. Not glamorous, but this is just a tester. I should also mention that the quantity I made will last about six weeks, which is how long it will be good for. It obviously doesn't have the same shelf life as a commercial brand. Apparently, you can tell if your shower gel is no longer usable if there is a noticeable difference in scent.

Related posts:
Update: DIY Cosmetics
DIY: Moisturizer and Shampoo
Cosmetics: the Dirty Dozen
DIY: Home Spa Salt Scrub
Dirty Dozen in my Personal Care Products
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber
Airing our Dirty Laundry
The Mile End Buzz around Beekeeping



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Give Your Bike Some Urban Style

This is not the cat! Seat cover from recycled fur
Listen closely winter cyclists! If your hind quarter bears the brunt of frigid winter winds, you may want to consider buying yourself a genuine fur bicycle seat cover to put between you and your saddle. Viviane Myette designs funky, yet functional, bicycle seat covers that can easily be  slipped on and off.

Our designer had at least 50 one-of-a-kind models to choose from this weekend at the Parachute Local Designers' sale at 5145 St-Laurent, and she even brought a bike for you to see what your model would look like once you hit the road. Her creations came in houndstooth, velour, tapestry, tweed and fur, with or without tassels, beading or fringe. You could even choose one to match your outfit du jour.

Viviane Myette and her uber cool inventory
In order to get a better idea of the different models, just click on the pictures to enlarge. If you happen to be a Bixi user, our designer even has special models to fit the broader public bike seat.

Bikes are no longer for the sporty; they're the sole means of transportation for legions of urban dwellers. Isn't it time to add a little style and individuality to your ride?

ABC Cycles at 5584 Park Avenue carries Vivane's seat covers, or to deal with Vivianne directly or see more of her funky seat covers, here's her website: www.couvreselle.ca

Related posts:
The Montreal Bixi v. the Denver B-Cycle
The Path of an Activist
Bixi: Success for All
Fun Way to Track Bike Use and Carbon Foot Print
3 Compelling Reason For A Bike Share Program in Your City
City Cycling: Why Renting Beats Owning
A Review of Montreal's Bixi Rental Bike





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Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

A combined effort by Mariko Tamaki and her illustrator cousin Jillian Tamaki, Skim is a graphic novel about Kimberly Keiko Cameron, aka Skim, a half-Asian Wiccan goth who attends an elite private girls' high school somewhere in Toronto in the early nineties. (Keep an eye out for those telltale cultural references.)

Skim is an only child caught between her recently separated and still bitter parents. Although Skim's status as outcast seems self-imposed, at least initially, we're not sure if her best friend Lisa enjoys being on the outs with the in-crowd, headed by Queen Bee Julie Peters. Equal measures of snark and drama with a few dollops of the blues! Sounds like high school, right?

The opening panels illustrating leaves blowing in the forest and Skim's cast on her broken arm foreshadow a bleak start to the school year. The subplot revolves around the devastated Katie Matthews, a classmate who recently had to come to terms with "le big dump" by boyfriend John Reddear. Then John commits suicide, and it is later rumoured that he did it because he was gay.

Skim has never met John, and Lisa may have met him just once, but their school administration kicks counselling into high-gear, calling emergency meetings and centering out individuals who seem prone to depression. Who more than our goth Skim, who has a secret of her own. She finds herself increasingly seeking out the attention of her English teacher, Ms. Archer.

Although this story may come across as dark, there is plenty of humour to balance it out, such as the forest coven meeting that Skim and Lisa attend. For Skim, things are fairly "spiritual" at the meeting until members of the circle start stepping forward to announce how long that they have been clean and sober. Lisa  neglected to tell Skim that it was also an AA meeting.

I was originally disappointed that the panels were not colour, but in hindsight, I could see that it would have interfered with the theme of this book: the coming of age of a woman struggling with her sexual identity amid the very straight culture of high school. Besides, the panels were so detailed and beautiful that I quickly forgot about colour or the lack thereof.

I was intrigued about Skim as soon as I heard that it was written by Mariko Tamaki, a former fat activist and founding member of Toronto's theatre/activist group, Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off. PS, I also learned that Mariko did start out writing zines.

Skim was also one of two graphic novels named among the 40 essential reads of the decade by the CBC Canada Reads series.

Pssst...I'm getting a lot of books for Christmas, so I may be giving this gem away. Stay tuned.

Further reading:
Mariko Tamaki
Jillian Tamaki's sketchblog

Other reviews
Expozine's Broken Pencil
It Gets Better - Love Pixar 
Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis 
Tattoos on the Heart
Reads from Men 
Happy Home For Broken Hearts
Death to the Dictator! by Afsaneh Mosadam
The Selves by Sonja Alhers
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber



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*Smart Design Mart:
Cara Carmina and Jackie Bassett

As you can see, the drawing at the entrance has evolved from the first evening of the *SDM. When my children, husband and I crowded into a full elevator, I was concerned about the number of people that might already be there. My son tends to kick it into high gear when there are TOYZ, and I knew that there were a fair number of custom toys to set him off. Fortunately, the second floor of 160 St. Viateur East, is a good-sized open venue that can accommodate a lot of people.

The other two featured artists of this year's *Smart Design Mart 2010 are Cara Carmina and Jackie Bassett. Pssst...Double click to enlarge photos.


Frida Kahlo Dolls
Featured Artists
Cara Carmina

I found out about *SDM through Norma Andreu, the creative force behind Cara Carmina.In addition to creating her one-of-a-kind Frida Kahlo dolls, which are sold in museums and high-end shops throughout the city, this Mexico City native also makes beautiful cards.

Cards by Cara Carmina
I had contacted her via Facebook to see if she had a line of Christmas cards, and I was in luck. The problem is that the cards are so nice that I knew I would have difficulty parting with them. Norma's aware of that, so on the reverse side of the card's envelope she has added some embellishment so that the envelope can also be used as matting, and you can frame the picture. This in itself would make a nice inexpensive gift.

At *SDM, Norma is displaying mostly cards, and just a few of her dolls, but I highly recommend that you visit her Etsy or her FlickR page to get a better idea of her work. You can also see a previous review of her work here.

Featured Artist
Jackie Bassett

Girl on Map of Wisconsin
Pressed Flowers
Displaying alongside Cara Carmina was Jackie Bassett. She specializes in cards and pictures with rich-coloured hand-picked pressed flowers. This Nepean, Ontario native also uses vintage maps and old encyclopedia pages as a background for photographs, she then reduces the image to create beautiful detailed cards. I chose the picture below set against a vintage map of Wisconsin from 1945. You will be drawn to the colour alone of Jackie's work. I know I was. For a better idea of her work visit her Etsy page.

Related posts:
*Smart Design Mart: Feature Jack Dylan
Cara Carmina's Magic Dolls



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*Smart Design Mart: Jack Dylan Feature

Artists at Work Friday at *SDM
The *Smart Design Mart featuring over 30 young designers, artists and artisans is on this weekend in the Mile End, at 160 St. Viateur East, second floor. You will find both vintage and new products, but a lot of the items are made from recycled materials. Clothing, bags, posters, jewelry, cosmetics, toys, art and food are just some of the items on sale.

I will be featuring the work of three artists at the *Smart Design Mart on my blog this weekend. I know that you will love their work, so I will be sure to give you details where you can contact these artists if you can't attend the event.

Dylan's business card
Jack Dylan, Illustrator

One of the first artists to take my breath away was the poster art of illustrator Jack Dylan, who is now attending the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. This Stratford, Ontario native spent a lot of time in Montreal and has created a series of posters with Mile End, Mont Royal and Montreal settings. Dylan is 27 years old and talented, which his lengthy list of clients bears testimony to. His posters, at 3 for $20, would make a great gift for anyone who loves Montreal or who has fond memories of the city.

Catwoman by Jack Dylan
On Dylan's website, he is selling the Pop Montreal Super Hero Series 2009, a set of five posters for $30 depicting a typical Esplanade Avenue triplex (Jeanne Mance Park), hipsters at a concert, hippies dancing at what I suspect is the tam-tam, and another poster of a crowd at an outdoor event. The second series, Pop Montreal Super Heroes Series 2007, features five super heroes at iconic Montreal sites: Superman sitting atop the cross on Mont-Royal, Flash making out at McGill, Catwoman feeding a cat in a Mile End back alley with the St-Viateur church in the background (I bought it!), Wonder Woman smoking on a Plateau fire escape and Spiderman eating lunch and reading the paper atop the milk bottle.

However, there are many more of Dylan's posters at the *Smart Design Mart, so I would try to make it there this weekend. Otherwise, his work is sold at Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard West, in the Mile End.



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The Informative, the Strange and the Surprising

Herbalist Angie Jenkins of Sister Lotus recommended A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, and I received it about a week ago. I have come across everything from the surprising and strange to the very informative. There's hours of enjoyment and some recipes in this fifth edition by Ruth Winter, although she's soft on what the David Suzuki Foundation deemed the dirty dozen, but bear in mind that this edition was published in 1999, and Ms.Winter is now 80 years old. Since purchasing this book, I have learned that a seventh edition was recently published. Drats!

Here are a few examples:

Rosemary Extract

"Widely used for beverages, condiments and meat." (Yep, I know)
"Widely used in hair products, bubble baths, body and hand preparations, lipsticks, suntan products and bath soaps." (Informative)
"A teaspoon of the oil may cause an illness in an adult." (Surprising)
"An ounce may cause death." (Surprising, strange and informative)

Bamboo

"Some extracts of bamboo are muscle relaxants--for example, curare is used by the Indians as arrow poison." (Who knew!)

Recipe: Banana Face-Mask (for dry skin) *non-toxic

"Mash one ripe banana and mash thoroughly with the tablespoon of almond meal plus two tablespoons of yogurt.
Spread mixture on face and neck.
Leave on for 4 to 5 minutes.
Rinse with lukewarm water."

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) Number #1 on the Dirty Dozen list

The David Suzuki Foundation: BHA serves as preservatives in make-up and moisturizers. It is also suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer.

A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: "A preservative in cosmetics, foods and beverages. White to slightly yellow waxy solid with a faint characteristic odor. Can cause an allergic reactions."


Sources
The David Suzuki Foundation
A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, MS


Related posts

DIY: Moisturizer and Shampoo
Cosmetics: the Dirty Dozen
DIY: Home Spa Salt Scrub
Dirty Dozen in my Personal Care Products
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber
Airing our Dirty Laundry
The Mile End Buzz around Beekeeping
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Update: DIY Cosmetics

Rose Sculpture in Mile End
In an effort to rid our cosmetics of the toxic dirty dozen, I went online and found some recipes to make my own shampoo and skin moisturizer. A month has past since I posted recipes and made my own herbal shampoo and beeswax moisturizer, and I just wanted to report back to all those who were interested in trying these recipes.

Beeswax, Almond Oil, Lavender & Ylang Ylang Essential Oils, Vitamin E
Moisturizer (original recipe click here)

I am very pleased with the beeswax and almond oil moisturizer; they are perfect ingredients for creating a balm against dry skin caused by cold winter weather. I would recommend that you cut the amount of the ingredients in half. I've used less than a quarter of a small mason jar in a month. This is great for feet, hands, legs and forearms, but it's too heavy to use on your face.

I would instead recommend the Wild Rose face cream "made with love by the Nova Scotian Sister Lotus team of belly dancing herbalists." It only took three days to ship from rural Nova Scotia to Montreal. A complete list of dirty-dozen free ingredients are given on the side of the product, which costs a third of the high-end moisturizer I once used, and unlike Sister Lotus, my previous moisturizer listed only its "active" ingredients. So what about the inactive ingredients?

Rosemary, Sage, Liquid Castile Soap, Lavender Essential Oil
Shampoo (original recipe click here)

Beats Golden Rod!
I tried this several times and was unable to get the mixture completely out of my hair, but I assumed it was because I have streaks, and colour treated-hair doesn't react well to certain shampoos. My husband said that it made his scalp too dry. Suspecting it was the castile soap, I tried a new recipe that called for a smaller quantity. I thought it was a matter of proper dosing. By week three, my daughter's hair was dry and tangled, and I was beginning to look like Pippi Longstocking. I decided that I would try some more shampoo experimenting over Christmas, but until then we needed some FREAKIN' shampoo. In the end, I found a dirty-dozen free shampoo, Oneka Elements, sold by one of the people who actually picked the ingredients and made the shampoo himself. The results were great.

A few words about liquid castile soap

People in the green movement swear by castile soap for its versatility. Believe it or not, you can use it for laundry soap and even brush your teeth with it (apparently, peppermint liquid soap is the best for toothpaste). Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap is vegetable-based and completely biodegradable, and although it's a great body soap, the maker does not advise using it as shampoo unless you use the recommended conditioner and stay-in cream rinse. Apparently, shampoo needs some acidic ingredients, which castile soap doesn't have, and that's why other products are needed.Otherwise, your hair will be very tangled, dull and straw-like after repeated use.

But I still haven't given up. I WILL continue to make my own cosmetics. Just because it's fun! If you try recipes from the Internet, I recommend that you have a Plan B in place.

Related posts:
DIY: Moisturizer and Shampoo
Cosmetics: the Dirty Dozen
DIY: Home Spa Salt Scrub
Dirty Dozen in my Personal Care Products
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber
Airing our Dirty Laundry
The Mile End Buzz around Beekeeping


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Expozine's Broken Pencil

St-Enfant Jésus, site of ExpoZine
Although it seems like yesterday, two weeks ago I took my son to the Saint-Enfant Jésus Church at St-Joseph and St-Dominque for the 2010 Expozine, which is held in a very warm basement with a low ceiling. This may sound unappealing, but in fact, it's wonderful. This is a large room filled with very creative people, presenting some over-the-top, fun material. And besides they serve beer.

You would expect that there would be only zines as the name implies, but in fact Expozine also features book, graphic novels and comics. It's actually a small press expo. This year, I had the impression that the work was a little more polished than in previous years. Polished is fine, but I love the very basic zine, just so I can imagine what it might be like without the typos, formatting glitches and slips of pen. These kinds of errors make a zine much more human.

A zine is a DIY self-published, small-circulation publication that uses original and/or borrowed texts and images; in other words, it can be anything you want it to be because you're the author, illustrator, graphic artist, editor, promoter and salesperson. I recently reviewed a political zine (review coming soon) that folded out into a poster, but for maximum reading pleasure, you had to read it as you unfolded. These zinesters combined the themes of raspberry jello and the Red Scare to great effect and the price was right--two bucks.

Mariko Mamaki on the Cover of Broken Pencil
As I walked around Expozine, I came across the table for Broken Pencil, a Toronto-based magazine that specializes in zine culture and independent arts. I remembered reading a Broken Pencil feature a few months earlier when I was researching work by Sonja Ahlers. They were giving out copies of past issues and a year's subscription for $10.00 at the table. I leafed through a few and saw several familiar names, all of them young writers I had never heard of until October of this year when the Canada Reads named its Top 40 Novels of the Decade. It appears that Broken Pencil has a good eye for talent.

I decided to buy a subscription. From the two issues I was given,  I learned that Heather O'Neill, a past Canada Reads winner, started out contributing to a zine. Zoe Whittall, whose recent novel was one of the Top 40, also began with zines. The graphic novels of Mariko Tamaki and Jeff Lemire were also named in this year's Top 40, and Lemire is the first graphic novelist ever to become a Canada Reads finalist. Did they, too, start out with zines? It wouldn't surprise me if they had.

The zine seems to provide the perfect starting point for aspiring writers. After all, they have to come up with the idea, story, theme, plan how it will unfold, consider the artwork and layout, find images and/or text, submit to magazines such as Broken Pencil, find a way to distribute the final product, and maybe, just maybe, recover the photocopying costs. Sounds like a practice-run for publishing a book to me. Stay tuned for my zine review...

Related posts:
Sonja Ahlers' the Selves
Upcycling: Big Cig Turns Over a New Leaf (Distroboto)
Montreal's 8th Annual Small Press Expozine
Some Thoughts on Canada Reads
Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis



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Some thoughts on Canada Reads

This week, the five finalists of the 2010 Canada Reads series were announced. Congratulations to the following authors:

1. The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (Ontario)
2. The Birth House by Ami McKay (Nova Scotia)
3. The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou (Saskatchewan) 
4. Essex County by Jeff Lemire (Ontario)
5. Unless by Carol Shields (U.S.)

A wide spectrum of themes are covered this year: sports, politics, midwifery, mother-daughter relationships and...a graphic novel, a genre that deserves a lot more attention in English-Canada. I was interested in the Canada Reads series this year as I've never been before, and I think it was because of the variety and the representation of both women and youth in the Top 40 Books of the Decade (click here and scroll down to see the full list). There were many young authors that I had never heard of before, but I may have discovered where we might find them in the future.... Check out my next post.

Sometimes, the obvious is right in front of us.
I was pleased with the 2011 list of finalists (although I wish that my favourite Maritime writer had been among them!), especially because there were three women in the top five. Yes, CBC I have been counting and with good reason, as you will see. The judging of books is very subjective, and male writers tend to get the lion's share of press and awards, and as we all know, a positive press review and a recognized award help immensely with book sales.

Just look at the situation for women writers south of the border in terms of some major literary awards. The following statistics were originally published on Vida: Women in Literary Arts. NB, This is only a partial list, but you'll quickly understand what I'm talking about.

Amazon- Top 100 Editor’s Picks 2009

77 Men
23 Women

Los Angeles Times Book Prize 2009

Innovator’s Award- 1 Man
Robert Kirsch Award- 1 Man

LA Times Favorite Fiction 2009

16 Men
9 Women

The National Book Awards 2009

Fiction- 1 Man
Nonfiction- 1 Man
Poetry- 1 Man
Young People’s Literature- 1 Man

Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009

71 Men
29 Women

Publishers Weekly Top 10 Books of 2009

10 Men
0 Women

Slate- Best Reads of 2009

15 Men
7 Women

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1948-2009

40 Men
16 Women

© 2010 VIDA
www.vidaweb.org
Author: Amy King

Other Book-Related posts

Spare Room by Helen Garner
The Nikolski Coincidence
Make Me A Woman
Tattoos on the Heart
Reads from Men  (Review of books by Hage, Russo, Franzen and Conlin)
Happy Home For Broken Hearts
Death to the Dictator! by Afsaneh Mosadam
The Selves by Sonja Alhers
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber




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It Gets Better - Love Pixar

This short video (8 min) is from the very creative employees of Pixar, the studio world-renowned for its animation genius and such hits as Toy Story, the Incredibles and Up. This is a very moving message of hope for teens and parents from individuals you will readily relate to. Do you remember how difficult adolescence was?

I've included some statistics that might be of interest to parents at the bottom of the post. H



Some statistics

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, accounting for over 12% of deaths in this age group; only accidents and homicide occur more frequently (National Adolescent Health Information 2006).

Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses (Center for Disease Control, 2008).

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey 2007).

More than 1/3 of LGB youth report having made a suicide attempt (D’Augelli AR - Clinical Child Psychiatry and Psychology 2002).

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide than LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection (Ryan C, Huebner D, et al - Peds 2009;123(1):346-352).

Source:
The Trevor Project

For further resources click here.



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