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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
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).

The Trevor Project

For further resources click here.

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Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis

Make Me A Woman

Vanessa Davis

Drawn & Quarterly

This review is also posted at Elevate Difference.

It’s no stretch to say that mainstream media give us a limited range of what women can be, so when we find a book that actually reflects the complexity of womanhood, we’re ecstatic. Make Me A Woman is just that. Readers will be able to readily relate to Vanessa Davis and the daily events of her life, while giving them just enough difference to sink into some pure escapism.

Make Me A Woman is a collection of Davis’s diary comics and drawings from 2004 to 2010. In watercolor, pen and ink or just pencil drawings torn from the pages of her sketchbook, Davis unveils the events of her childhood in South Florida, her life in New York in her early 20s and finally her move to California, where she currently lives with her boyfriend. Davis tackles those seemingly indescribable daily events, be it developing a crush on a stranger in her daily commute or dealing with an awkward sexual encounter or unrequited love, with biting wit and aplomb.

All those aspiring artists out there will find this collection inspirational. Davis details her series of low-paying jobs with an eye trained firmly on her career—a paid cartoonist. She also pens a few panels about facing the artist’s worst demon: procrastination. In addition to creating strips about her Jewish identity and hanging out with friends, this autobio cartoonist creates some of her funniest panels about her relationship with her mother and sister. Although Davis’s mother is the űber cool founder of the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, she makes her daughters cringe by her mere choice of words, as mothers are wont to do.

I found Davis’s collection of strips enjoyable. I loved the tiny details she adds to her comics, and the hilarious asides that she slips in. But what I love the most is the range of feelings that the cartoonist expresses in her art, such as anger, annoyance, disappointment, anxiety, physical pain, pining, self-pity, embarrassment and bliss. What’s more, it’s refreshing to see a cartoonist who is not afraid to draw herself with some weight on her and does not obsess about her size in the book, except for the fat farm she went to in her teens, which she “enjoyed.”

I’ve read through the collection three times, and each time that I get to the end, I want more. Although her critique of Robert Crumb was worth the price of the book, I still wish that Davis had delved more into her life as a cartoonist.

Other Reviews
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
Read more »
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Chris Hedges and Buying Local

This week, I switched from reading novels from the Canada Reads 2011 series to something a little more serious. In Death of the Liberal Class, former NYT writer Christopher Hedges posits that the liberal class was, in the past, a line of defense from the excesses of power. He states that the pillars of the liberal class--the press, universities, the labour movement, culture and liberal religious institutions--no longer serve as a counterbalance to the corporate state, leaving the poor, working and middle classes without anyone to champion their cause. Hedges writes that the liberal class also provided a means for possible "incremental reform," such as the civil rights and the gay rights movements, while keeping the corporate control of politics, education, labour, the arts, religious institutions and financial institutions in check.

In other words, the liberal class has become complicit with the corporate state out of fear or greed, leaving the majority of the population without any type of protection. If you've been wondering where the Tea Party came from, I think that Mr. Hedges has offered a plausible answer. There's a large segment of the population that is unemployed, penniless and facing foreclosures on their homes who need a champion or some type of "incremental reform" to lend them a hand, and there's no one in either of the US parties offering any support.

And this isn't limited to the US; it's happening throughout the Western world. In Canada, we just have to look at our outrageous banking charges, the ever-changing billing practices of telecommunications companies or the election of Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto to see that we are experiencing the same thing right here. Mr. Hedges even quotes federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who, while still living in the US in 2003, told the Guardian that "I still think that Bush is right when he says that Iraq would be better off if Saddam were disarmed and, if necessary, replaced by force." It's a small wonder that our minority Conservatives are still in power; our own Liberal leader appears to be liberal in name only.

Selling Kale at the local St-Dominique Market
Although I haven't come to Mr. Hedges' solutions yet, I can see where he's headed. We need to start supporting our neighbours to keep our own communities afloat and try to exclude corporations whenever possible.

I thought of environmental activist Laure Waridel's book Acheter c'est voter, or buying is voting. Now, more than ever we need to consider this when we make our purchases.

But finding local products is time-consuming. And how do you know if the product is good? Where do you get decent recommendations from someone who isn't a corporate shill?

It would seem that resorting to word-of-mouth among networks of friends and like-minded people is once again one of the more trusted methods, which would explain the huge success of social media.

Word-of-mouth: a new non-toxic local product

On Thursday, I was buying organic vegetables from a health food store on Laurier East. There was a man in his thirties who asked me if I wanted to try a sample of Oneka Elements shampoo that he and his wife were selling. I stopped to have a look. As some of you may recall, after reading about the Dirty Dozen or all the carcinogens, toxins and industrial ingredients used in commercial cosmetics, I tried making my own shampoo and moisturizer. The moisturizer was a hit, but my husband was not keen on the shampoo. I needed an alternative in case my next recipe was unsuccessful.

As I strained to read the ingredients on the sample bottle, I told the salesman that I had learned about all the toxins used in commercial cosmetics from the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). He immediately blurted out that the reason their list of ingredients was so long was because he and his wife had listed them in French and English together.

You may recall that the DSF instructs consumers to buy cosmetics with the fewest ingredients. I went through the list and was pleased to see that the shampoo did not contain any Dirty Dozen ingredients. In addition, there was an asterisk next to the certified organic ingredients, and they had even indicated the ingredients that had been picked in the wild. I was also given an explanation as to the best kind of shampoo for a particular hair type. The best part--the shampoo sample was large enough to wash your hair at least three times to see if you liked it or not.

Okay, I was sold! Here, we have a husband and wife team going to health food stores to give out samples and explain their line of dirty dozen-free hair care products. What's more, it's a local product from St. Armand, Quebec. But the best part is that I tried the shampoo, and it does a great job.

Even more endearing, they deliver their product by bike with a bike trailer.

As I've said before, I'd much rather support the efforts of individuals trying to do the right thing than give my money away to a largely unaccountable, unsustainable multinational corporation.

Check out the Oneka Elements website here.

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

Read more »
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Le Champs des Possibles

Sunset early November in the Champs des possibles
Ten years ago when I moved to Montreal, I went to visit a friend who lived on Casgrain. I was instructed to get off at Metro Rosemont and to bring a pair of gloves in case I had to climb over a train, and then walk across a garbage strewn heath by some large ugly 1970-style cement factories to get to my friend's house. I laughed about climbing over the train, but she apparently had to do it several times a week in her office attire. Not only did she pack a lunch in the morning, she also packed a pair of men's leather gloves.

A year later, we moved to Henri-Julien and my daughter was enrolled in a daycare north of the train tracks. Everyday we walked by the heath and stepped over garbage that people had thrown onto the sidewalk and into the field. This was not my favourite part of the walk. It was a neglected area, and a few times in the summer, CP Rail would come and cut the grass in the field.

Then a few years ago, a lot of the garbage disappeared, and gardening projects started to spring up. I often saw posters for activities and tours of plant and animal life in the field. Then I started to hear the field referred to as le Champs des possibles. This is also the site of the beekeeping station that I visited last summer.

Le Champs des possibles is used by many pedestrians
Just recently, there was a launch of a non-profit organization called les Amis du Champs des possibles, and apparently at the launch, they unveiled some tentative plans to turn the area into an Urban Biodiversity Reserve.

The interest in this field and the visible improvements were all welcome changes. I liked that CP did not come and cut the grass this summer. Instead, a group of people offered to pull the golden rod from the field, letting the field and wildflowers grow, thus, enhancing the area's biodiversity. The area now resembles and smells like the field that I used to play in as a child.

At the launch last Friday, urban naturalist Roger Latour, a very active member of les Amis du Champs des possibles, presented this beautiful slide show of all the species of animals, insects and plants that have been spotted in the field. You might be surprised by some of the wildlife that is living at the end of our urban street, right smack in the middle of the Island of Montreal. This is truly a beautiful presentation and a must-see (just 8 minutes)!

Related posts
The MileEnd Buzz Around Beekeeping
Urban Art Trend: the Decal

Read more »
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Mont-Royal Park: New Kids' Playground

There's no finer way to spend a sunny November afternoon than a trip to the top of Mont-Royal. I love the idea of being in the middle of the city without any of the cars, cement or pollution. Most of the fall leaves had already blown away, but there was a beautiful blue watercolour sky. We went to visit the ducks only to find that Beaver Lake had been drained. The last time my daughter and I had ridden our bikes to the top of the mountain, the children's playground was being refurbished, and it was in dire need. The former playground was at least 30 years old. 

The new kids' park is well worth the visit for young families. The City has set up a state-of-the-art playground complete with two rock-climbing structures and "the eye," a rope-climbing structure (See photo below). The picture on the right is my daughter on the Jetson-style see-saw or teeter-totter with Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome, my other half. There were all sorts of variations on the traditional playground rides (the space-age merry-go-round was my favourite). This is a good couple of hours of fun exercise for kids under the age of 10.

Like many parents, we're always looking for inexpensive energy-expending activities. If you come across any great things to do with kids, please drop me a line so that I can share it with everyone.

If you don't have a car take the number 11 bus outside the Mont-Royal Metro Station to get to the top.

Other Child-Related posts
Halloween in Villeray
St-Viateur: the Polish Bazaar
Ghoulish Garb
Comics: Girls, Boys and Reading

Read more »
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Remembrance Day: Hope For PTSD Sufferers

Photo courtesy of PA Legion Auxiliary
Today, November 11, we stop to remember those who lost their lives in war in the service of their country. Their absence in our lives has and will affect us irreparably both individually and collectively as a society. But we should also remember those who return from war, unable to escape the traumatic memories they have experienced, the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A severe anxiety disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop as a result of living through events that cause extreme psychological distress. These events may include experiencing a threat to one's life or to someone else's safety, or enduring a threat to one's physical, sexual or psychological well-being. Some of the diagnostic symptoms of PTSD are reliving the experiences through flashbacks and nightmares, avoiding any stimuli that may trigger further trauma and persistent over-arousal, such as hypervigilance or the inability to fall or stay asleep, control one's anger or concentrate. These symptoms lead to significant impairment in an individual's ability to function in social and occupational settings, as well as in other areas of life.

PTSD rates are high among those who have seen active combat. In Canada, retired Lt-General Romeo Dallaire brought PTSD to the forefront. After serving as the Canadian Commander of the UN Mission to Rwanda in 1994 and trying in vain to stop the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Dallaire experienced repeated flashbacks of the genocide after he returned to Canada. In one instance, while driving to the beach with his family, he saw road workers stacking wood at the side of the road and experienced a flashback in which he saw the workers stacking corpses rather than wood. He had to pull over and describe the overwhelming images to his horrified family. On another occasion, he reportedly fainted in a Montreal supermarket. The scent of fruit had overpowered him, triggering a memory of rotting fruit and corpses at a Kigali market during the mass killings.

After two suicide attempts and years of reliving the carnage, Romeo Dallaire was found in a park in Hull, Quebec, semi-conscious and curled up in a fetal position in June 2000. With the help of medication and therapy, he went on to write about his experience in Shake Hands With the Devil and become a Liberal Senator.

Although there is some debate about what is the best therapy for treating PTSD, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is commonly used. This approach received the approval of  the American Psychological Association in 1999 and is now recommended as an effective treatment for trauma by the American Psychiatric Association and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

In 1989, psychologist Francine Shapiro discovered EMDR. At the time she was experiencing trauma in her own life, and after going for a walk, she felt remarkably better. Later, she remembered that while she was walking, she had been moving her eyes from side to side, the same rapid eye movement we do when we dream. As you may know, dreaming is how we process and deal with our emotions.

In Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, Mary K. Armstrong tells Shapiro's story, which happened at about the same time that researchers were looking at the interplay between the cognitive left and emotional right hemispheres of the brain, and how the limbic system played a role in trauma. According to Armstrong, the traumatized emotional side of the brain cannot access the rational thinking of the left brain, but somehow a connection must be made.

In her book, Armstrong spoke of her own experience with EMDR. With another psychologist, Armstrong chose to work on a traumatic memory of her father choking her after sexually assaulting her.  Armstrong summoned this painful visual memory while following the psychologist's fingers with her eyes as they moved from left to right. In the session, as Armstrong processed her memory, she saw her father come towards her and stop just before he was about to choke her. He then gradually faded from her view, and she felt enormous relief. She managed to reprocess the memory and desensitize this traumatic event.

In Confessions, Armstrong writes, "EMDR theory demonstrates that the eye movements allow for bilateral stimulation of the two halves [of the brain], thus changing the way we experience an event."

In her own private practice, Armstrong has successfully used EMDR to treat a wide range of cases in which the reactions of her patients did not make rational sense. As examples, she cites rape victims who believe that their perpetrator still poses a danger, or a car crash victim who believes that the accident will reoccur if he gets back into a car.

She also states that trauma is cumulative and that it is relatively easy to work with a young person, as opposed to adults, who have built up years of layers after a traumatic event. To illustrate this point, she refers to her own personal history as the daughter of a sexually abusive father and a narcissistic mother, leaving her devoid of a self. As a result, she made poor decisions, which resulted in an accumulation of negative experiences for many years of her life.

Armstrong cautions that EMDR is only a technique and requires a skilled psychologist who is comfortable with strong emotions, has a thorough knowledge of trauma and can provide a safe environment for the patient. In fact, throughout her book, Armstrong advocates a gentler therapy for trauma called Focusing, which could easily be the subject of another post.

The Boston Globe, Jeet Heer
Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, Mary K. Armstrong

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2011 Canada Reads: 10 Finalists

The Top 10 Canadian Novels of the Decade have just been announced. Six men and four women make up the list of finalists. Congratulations to

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.The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (Ontario) 
5.Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall (Quebec)
6. Essex County by Jeff Lemire (Ontario)
7. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Spain)
8. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (U.S.)
9. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (Ontario)
10. Unless by Carol Shields (U.S.)

Hey Reader! What do you think of the fact that Life of Pi was a Canada Reads finalist in 2003, Three Day Road was a finalist in 2006, and The Book of Negroes won the competition in 2009. Should previous finalists be ruled out to give other Canadian authors a chance to be among the top 10?

Among the original top 40, there was a strong showing from the Maritimes with 9 writers and, of course, from Ontario where the bulk of the population resides (17 writers). I compiled this information based on my research into the authors' place of birth. But I do acknowledge that Ann-Marie McDonald grew up in the the Maritimes, making the ratio of writers from the Atlantic provinces 1:4. (Something in the water?). It was also nice to see a fairly even split among women and men writers (21/19).

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Manitoba)
Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall (Quebec)
Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright (Ontario)
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (Newfoundland)
Conceit by Mary Novik (British Columbia)
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (Ontario)
Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin (Nova Scotia)
Elle by Douglas Glover (Ontario)
Essex County by Jeff Lemire (Ontario)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Ontario)
February by Lisa Moore (Newfoundland)
Galore by Michael Crummey (Newfoundland)
Heave by Christy Ann Conlin (Nova Scotia)
Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey (Newfoundland)
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (Ontario)
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Spain)
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill (Quebec)
Moody Food by Ray Robertson (Ontario)
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Ontario)
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (U.S.)
Room by Emma Donoghue (Ireland)
Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop (Manitoba)
Skim by Mariko Tamaki (Ontario) and Jillian Tamaki (Alberta)
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb (Ontario)
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (Ontario)
The Birth House by Ami McKay (Nova Scotia)
The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre (Newfoundland)
The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou (Saskatchewan)
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (Ontario)
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan (Ontario)
The Fallen by Stephen Finucan (Ontario)
The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon (?)
The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe (Saskatchewan)
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart (Ontario)
The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Germany)
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (Ontario)
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (Ontario)
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden (Ontario)
Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr. (Nova Scotia)
Unless by Carol Shields (U.S.)

Other Reviews
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
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
Read more »
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DIY: Home Spa Salt Scrub

Former McGill student and herbal maven Angie Oriana Jenkins has been kind enough to offer us a recipe to make our own Home Spa Salt Scrub completely free of the Dirty Dozen, or the 12 toxins commonly found in commercial cosmetic products sold in Canada. At least 80% of all cosmetics sold in this country contain at least one ingredient among the Dirty Dozen.

According to Angie...

Salt scrubs detoxify, exfoliate and soften skin, leaving you with a healthy glow. They are even reputed to clear your energy field (aka aura or subtle body). Apply the scrub all over your body while you're in the bath or shower and then rinse. You may want to avoid sensitive skin areas on your face. Use the following scrub once or twice a week.

First of all, find a container that you love. Fill it with:
* 3 parts course (“small” grain) Sea Salt
* 1 part Oil (She likes to mix Grapeseed, Sweet Almond and Apricot Kernel)
* a palmful of Fragrant Herbs (Ideas: Lavender Flowers, Roses, Mint, Rosemary)
* OPTIONAL: a pinch of Colourful Herbs (Ground Elderberries for purple, Turmeric for orange, Alkanet Root for maroon). You may need to purchase whole elderberries and grind them in a coffee grinder.
* a few drops of a non-irritating Essential Oils (Lavender, Chamomile or Patchouli). Some essential oils, such as Cinnamon, burn the skin so be sure to do some research beforehand. A good aromatherapy resource is The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless.

Stir all of this together (Angie uses specially designed chopsticks for cosmetics), and voila!  Your salt scrub is ready.

If you like this recipe, you may want to check out Angie "Oriana" Jenkins' other salt scrubs and herbal cosmetic products at Sister Lotus. She also has a Facebook page.

Pssst...My husband used my homemade shampoo and his hair looks good, albeit voluminous.

Related posts:

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

Read more »
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DIY: Moisturizer and Shampoo

In my quest to rid our everyday cosmetics of the Dirty Dozen, I made a request via Facebook to see where I might get a reference guide for making my own cosmetics. Luckily, herbal maven Angie Oriana Jenkins gave me my first resource, A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, which I immediately ordered online. As I quickly discovered, a basic resource is key because of the sheer volume of information in cyberspace. 

There was no shortage of e-recipes. I found step-by-step instructions on how to make moisturizers, lip balms, shampoos, facial masks, and the easiest of them all, hair conditioners. There were even recipes for getting rid of lice. Just a word of advice. Once you decide on a recipe, make sure that you are familiar with the measurement units the recipe calls for. I chose one with measurements in ounces and was continually reaching for my pencil to figure out what that would be in grams.

Deciding on a recipe was not difficult, but coming up with all the ingredients required two trips to Tau, a large health food store here in Montreal. This was an eye-opening experience. Did you know it is possible to buy a large bar of beeswax and a bottle of avocado oil? I spent about $75 for all the ingredients, and I know that this sounds expensive, but the high-end commercial moisturizer I usually buy, which does not disclose all of its ingredients, retails for about $60. If we end up using the shampoo and moisturizer over the winter months then the experiment will be well worth the money. Besides, these two experiments were FUN!

The moisturizer

1. Combine one cup of almond oil and 1/2 cup of beeswax in a small pot and stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
2. Using a wire whisk, beat the liquid while it cools.
3. Add a few drops of essential oils (lavender and ylang ylang) and the contents of three vitamin E capsules.
4. Pour mixture into sterilized jars.

From this combination, I ended up with a small mason jar and a half of moisturizer, and our house was impregnated with the sweet smell of beeswax. Saturday being bath night, I tried the moisturizer on my kiddies' legs. It took about an hour for the moisturizer to be absorbed, but there was no sticky residue after that. My husband's reaction, which is very important: the moisturizer smelled "okay." Some more food for thought, beeswax was hard to get off the whisk, wooden spoon and pot. It's important to use an old rag to wipe down the pot immediately after use before the wax sets. Then throw the rags out because they can catch fire in the dryer if you try to clean them. Also keep in mind that this product can clog your drain.

NB, The consistency of the above mixture is more of a balm or salve. Angie Jenkins told me that moisturizers are usually water based with a creamier texture and call for a lot more ingredients.

Rosemary/Sage Shampoo

8 oz of liquid Castile soap. (Castile soap is made from 100% olive oil.)
1/2 oz of rosemary (stimulates hair follicles and is known to prevent premature balding.)
1/2 oz of sage (acts as an anti-oxidant and conserving agent.)
a few drops of lavender oil (helps to control itchy scalp.)
*Optional 1/2 oz of nettles (stimulates hair growth and blood circulation.)

1. Mix the herbs in a mason jar and add the lavender, then seal tightly.
2. Boil two cups of water.
3. Add three tablespoons of the herbal mixture to the boiling water and let it stand for 30 to 45 minutes.
4. Strain the herbs off the water into a clean bowl.
5. Take two 8oz shampoo bottles, add 2 oz of the herbal water to each and then add 4 oz of Castile liquid soap to each bottle.
6. Shake both bottles well.
7. Voila! You now have two bottles of Rosemary/Sage herbal shampoo!

I washed both my kids' hair with this, and I was pleased with my daughter's reaction, "Mom, it smells so good!" Success on one end. There was a little bit of lather without the evil sodium laureth sulfate (Dirty Dozen number 11). My husband said that it smelled "okay" and that he would try it. My kids' hair looked just as it usually did after washing. I guess we'll still have to reassess this at a later date to see how this shampoo performs in the long run, but so far, so good. Just a note to readers. I had a lot of leftover herbs and herbal water from this recipe.

Fast forward to one month later to see the results of these experiments.

I enjoyed these two experiments, and I was pleased with the results. However, I still feel overwhelmed by all the information I found on herbs and their properties, and if I'm being completely honest, the sweet smell of beeswax in the kitchen the next morning made me feel slightly sick to my stomach. Good ventilation is important.

Another point: I've been off sick with pneumonia for two weeks, but our everyday lives of raising two kids and working full time are pretty busy. Therefore, in my heart of hearts, I find myself looking for convenience.

We can all read labels to avoid the Dirty Dozen in our cosmetics, but maybe we should defer to an expert for things such as cosmetics. When we pay for a product, we are paying for overhead, ingredients, labour, etc, and while I have no issue with companies making profits, I do object to their profit-making taking precedent over our well-being.

In my research, I came across many lines of homemade beauty products. However, I met herbalist Angie Oriana Jenkins who has worked extensively in the health foods industry and who is a go-to person for all things roses, which includes giving classes at Acadia University on the subject. I have gone through her line of products and her list of ingredients, and I have found her prices reasonable given her expertise and the actual cost of ingredients.

Angie's line, Sister Lotus, is a great place to start if you want to avoid the Dirty Dozen and capitalize on her experience. Besides, isn't it nicer to buy something from an individual rather than a huge corporation?

We also owe a big thanks to the David Suzuki Foundation for bringing the Dirty Dozen to our attention.

Related posts:
Cosmetics: the Dirty Dozen
Dirty Dozen in my Personal Care Products
The Mile End Buzz around Beekeeping

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Dirty Dozen in My Personal Care Products

After my research yesterday, I thought I had a relatively good handle on the Dirty Dozen, or the 12 cosmetic ingredients consumers should avoid according to the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). However, I ran into a problem with the chemical names that were similar but not exact matches. For all of us who took high school chemistry, we know that a tiny change in name suggests a whole different substance. No need to despair! I discovered Chemicals in Cosmetics, a UK database where more of these little beasts are listed.

I took the first three bottles I found in our bathroom. The first one is Colgate/Palmolive Softsoap, a liquid hand soap that we all use. Here is the list of ingredients that figure among the DSF's Dirty Dozen:

Number 11- Sodium Laureth Sulfate: This is what makes the foamy suds, and it may contain 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen that does not biodegrade.
Number 7- Parfum: Some types have been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity and may trigger asthma and allergies.
Number 5- DMDM hydantoin: This is a formaldehyde releasing preservative. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen.
Number 8- PEG-120 and PEG-7: Both are petroleum-based compounds that may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane.
Number 12- Triclosan: The anti-bacterial agent found in a wide range of consumer products. It is a suspected endocrine disruptor, does not biodegrade and may react to create dioxins, which are highly toxic. There is also some concern that extensive use could result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Therefore, there were six Dirty Dozen ingredients in our hand soap alone. Not very reassuring, as it's the product we use several times a day. Then there were the names that were not perfect matches, as in the following:

Cocamidopropyl Betaine: According to the Chemicals in Cosmetics database, this substance may cause skin and eye irritation.
Polyquaternium-7. As you may recall from the list yesterday, Polyquaternium-15 is named. According to the UK database, Polyquaternium 7, 15, 31, 60 etc. are all formaldehyde releasing substances. I'm adding this entire family to Dirty Dozen Number #5.

The second item was Klorane shampoo with camomile, which I assumed to be a gentle shampoo for my daughter. The ingredients are as follows:

Number 11- Sodium Laureth Sulfate: Think foamy suds, and it may contain 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen that does not biodegrade.
Number 7- PEG-7: A petroleum-based compound that may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen.
Number 7- Parfum: Some types have been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity and may trigger asthma and allergic reactions.
Number 5- Polyquaternium-7: A formaldehyde releasing substance. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen.

Therefore, in my daughter's gentle shampoo, there are four Dirty Dozen ingredients.

The final product and also the one with the longest list of ingredients was Le Petit Marseillais shower cream. Here are the Dirty Dozen ingredients I discovered:

Number 11- Sodium Laureth Sulfate: I think I can do without the suds now.
Number 3- Cocamide MEA: On the list, you might recall that the name was Cocamide DEA, but because DEA, MEA and TEA are all under the same heading, I'll opt to be better safe than sorry. DEA, MEA and TEA can combine with other chemicals to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Number 11: Sodium Lauryl Sufate: This is a known eye, skin and respiratory tract irritant.
Number 5- Polyquaternium-7: A formaldehyde releasing substance. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen.
Number 7- Parfum: Some types have been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity and may trigger asthma and allergic reactions.

It also names the following as its fourth ingredient:

Cocamidopropyl Betaine: According to the Chemicals in Cosmetics database, this substance may cause skin and eye irritation.

Now that we're all sufficiently depressed, I'll start to look into some possible solutions for my next post. If you have or know of any home remedies or commercial brands without any Dirty Dozen ingredients for shampoos, soaps or moisturizers, please drop me a line and share them with us.

Related posts:
Cosmetics: the Dirty Dozen
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber
Airing our Dirty Laundry
The Mile End Buzz around Beekeeping

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Cosmetics: The Dirty Dozen

According to the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), the ingredients found in cosmetics are not "pretty." In fact, the DSF states that U.S. researchers from the Environmental Working Group have reported that 1 in 8 of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, which include carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, powerful degreasers used to clean industrial machinery and surfactants.

The DSF surveyed Canadians to find out how many of the Dirty Dozen (list below) were in their cosmetics, and unfortunately, 80% of all products contained at least 1 toxic ingredient.

As you can well imagine, after reading through the list, I headed to the bathroom. I know that my husband and I have the metabolic rate, body weight and immune system to handle a greater toxic load than our children, but I shudder to think what these chemicals could do to my three- and eight-year-old.

I took the list, which, yes, is pretty daunting, and pulled back the shower curtain. BTW, if you're going to do this, I suggest you bring a magnifying glass or yer bifocals. The print is indeed small.

I have gone through the ingredients of the above three products in my bathroom. Check in tomorrow to hear about my hair-raising finds.

Here's what to look for when you go shopping:

The Dirty Dozen

1. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). They serve as preservatives in make-up and moisturizers. They are also suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer.

2. Coal tar dyes: Look for p-phenylenediamine hair dyes and in other products colours listed as "CI" followed by five digits.Possible carcinogen and may contain heavy metals that are toxic to your brain.

3. DEA (diethanolamine):  This is used in creamy moisturizers and sunscreens. Cocamide and lauramide DEA are found in sudsy products, such as shampoos, cleansers and soaps. Also be on the lookout for MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine). Like DEA, MEA and TEA can combine with other chemicals to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.

4. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP): The plasticizer used in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disruptor and a reproductive toxicant. Another phthalate (pronounced tha-late) to look out for is DEP or diethyl phthalate.

5. Formaldehyde releasing-preservatives: Arm your decoder for this list! Keep your eye out for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quaternium-15, which release small amounts of formaldehyde, a carcinogen. This is found mainly in cosmetics.

6. Parabens: Again, this is used as a preservative in a variety of cosmetics, and it may interfere with male reproduction functions.

7. Parfum: This is also known as fragrance, which cosmetic manufacturers are not compelled to disclose the ingredients of, as they constitute a trade secret. Parfum is found in a wide variety of cosmetics, including those marketed as unscented. Parfum can trigger both allergies and asthma. Some types have been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity.

8. PEGs (related compound-polyethylene glycols): Petroleum-based compounds widely used in cream bases of cosmetics. Depending on the manufacturing process, this compound may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen that is also persistent. In other words, it doesn't break down once it washes down the drain. Keep an eye out for the "eth" as in polyethylene glycol.

9. Petrolatum: Also known as mineral oil jelly, petrolatum is used as a barrier to lock moisture into skin. It may also be used in hair care products to make your locks shine. Petrolatum can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest that exposure to PAHs over extended periods may cause cancer. The European Union has classified PAH a carcinogen.

10. Siloxanes (cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5), cyclohexasiloxane (D6) and cyclomethicone (D4 + D5 + D6)): Look for ingredients ending in "siloxane." These silocone compounds are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. They are used in deodorant creams, moisturizers and facial treatments. Environment Canada has found D4 and D5 to be toxic, persistent and to bioaccumulate in aquatic organisms. The European Union has classified D4  as an endocrine disruptor. D5 has been found to cause uterine tumours and compromise immune and reproductive systems.

11. Sodium laureth sulfate: This is found in bubble bath, shampoos and cleansers. It may also be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane (a possible carcinogen). Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a related agent that is a known skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant. Also be on the look out for other ethoxylates, or the chemical names with "eth" in them, as in sodium laureth sulfate.

12. Triclosan: This is an anti-bacterial agent that can be found in everything from hand sanitizers to furniture fabric and facial tissues. Triclosan enters through the skin and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Because triclosan is persistent, it does not biodegrade, and in nature it may also react to create dioxins, which are highly toxic. Another concern of the extensive use of Triclosan in consumer products is that it may result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Source: the David Suzuki Foundation.

Too Much for You to Remember?

If you think that this list is too much to remember then here are some tips and tools that the DSF recommends when shoppping for cosmetics:

1. Purchase products with fewer ingredients. Buy shampoos with only 12 instead of 25 ingredients.
2. Only purchase products with ingredients that you can pronounce.
3. Download the DSF's wallet-sized dirty dozen list that you can refer back to.
4. Consult the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety data base if you want to investigate a particular product before buying. Keep in mind that the ingredients may differ in Canada, as the EWG is a U.S. organization.

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Halloween in Villeray

Much to my chagrin, I was too sick to go out with my children to trick or treat last night. My husband took the kids up to our new neighbourhood (effective July 2011) in Villeray, instead of doing the rounds in the Mile End. Even though fewer people give out candy on the Plateau, when they celebrate Halloween, residents go all out. In other words, the scare factor is always given due consideration, and this usually includes tapes of scary noises, stuffed dummies sitting in lawn furniture and frightening masks. Last year, we even had a convincingly creepy lady play scary music on her accordion. In addition, Plateau residents give out lots of loot: candy, little toys and chocolate.

According to my kids, Villeray was not great from a candy standpoint. My son actually came home with a bottle of water, which resulted in an eye roll from my daughter measurable on the Richter scale. There were lots of stairs to climb for a sucker and a few candy kisses. (BTW, has anyone in the history of Halloween ever eaten a Halloween kiss? Didn't think so.) However, everyone in Villeray seemed to take part in Halloween, so no childless individuals answered the door dazed and confused to find two little kids standing on their doorstep in Halloween costumes. I told my kids that there would be places in Villeray that would be just as good as those on the Plateau. We just had to find them.

I'm sure there's someone in Villeray dying to scare the bejeezus out of me with his boa constrictor, as was the case last year. To see the boa click here.

Related post
Halloween in the Mile End
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