Category Archives: Social Responsibility

Up cycling at its best

20130827-070324.jpg

Both for renovating our small, cute cottage (aka: Green Acres), as well as for our new house build, the Habitat for Humanity Restores have been our first stop, both for sourcing out items that we need as well as for recycling items we no longer need. Many communities have these wonderful stores, and if you haven’t been to one yet you’re definitely missing out. Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 as a way to give people a hand up in providing them with affordable housing, not a hand-out. To this day they have facilitated housing for thousands of families all over the world. I and my family have been very blessed indeed to be able to take basic needs such as a roof over our heads for granted, but this is not the reality for many, so I love supporting this charity in any way I can.
The Restores obtain items from homeowners, renovators, liquidators, manufacturers, as well as big box stores such as Home Depot. You can often find brand new or nearly new items there for a fraction of the cost. Another bonus is that you pay no tax at all on any of the items, even the brand new ones.
One of my favourite Restores is in Bracebridge. It is giganormous, plus it’s right next to Muskoka Brewery, a tiny craft brewery where you can sample before you buy. Yum!
For our next project at Green Acres we desperately needed to renovate the bathroom, which had previously been renovated, but in such a shoddy fashion that (believe it or not), they had sort of plumbed in a marine toilet instead of a proper one, and had plumbed in the vanity without a P-trap. Needless to say, the smell was horrible, which is likely why the place was on the market so long. We purchased a Hennessy and Hinchcliffe ultra high efficiency toilet, (which I would highly recommend if you need a new toilet as it only uses 3 litres per flush), and we found a cute vanity at ReStore, as well as a slightly used faucet.
Tune in next week for the “Before and Afters”!

20130827-073446.jpg

Whether you’re looking for a light fixture,

 

20130827-073454.jpg

furniture to refinish with milk paint,

 

20130827-073514.jpg

a brand new window or door for a cottage or shed,

 

20130827-073507.jpg

a lavatory basin to replace a cracked one,

 

20130827-073500.jpg

a “new” kitchen that you could re-paint after it’s installed,

 

20130827-081551.jpg

or even a brand new vanity. Look at that price! And no tax!

 

Strawberry Picking in August? Yes!

20130813-151220.jpg
Well I bet you’ve never seen this before? I know I haven’t. Farmer Larry Pegg of Homestead Orchards in Georgina saw this type of hydroponic strawberry set-up in England and decided to try it 3 years ago. This year is his first viable crop and it’s a bumper one. As with anything brand new there are bound to be hiccups and this year it was an earwig infestation. Farmer Larry devised a very creative pesticide-free method of dealing with the pesky bugs – tuna tins with a little of the tuna left in the bottom and covered with a half inch of oil. The earwigs fall in and can’t get out!
The type of strawberry planted in these greenhouses is an everbearing strawberry, which means we’ll be able to pick strawberries right through to November. They are very easy to pick as they hang at waist level. You just have to be very careful and use a pair of snippers (provided). The taste is astonishing. Probably the most flavourful strawberry I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten quite a few!
If you’re in Georgina you must give them a try, as well as their u-pick apples which start in September. (note to Islanders – Homestead Orchards is off Woodbine just 5 km East on Old Homestead – worth the detour!)

20130813-152817.jpg

 

20130813-152842.jpg

you have to snip the strawberries carefully from the stem

 

20130813-152858.jpg

and in no time flat you have 2 quarts of super delicious berries

 

20130813-152851.jpg

Before and After

In the last week I have had so many requests for before and after pictures of my cottage bedroom and dresser that I thought I should comply.
These photos were joined together using an iPhone app called Pic Jointer which is super easy to use. The Before and After text was added using an app called Overgram, which has, as you can see, a watermark. There’s another app called Over which doesn’t leave a watermark.

This first set of pictures are of my potted tomato plant that I planted on May 22, and the After picture was taken on July 30, so about two months later. The After picture does not really show how enormous this tomato plant is. It is well over 5′ tall and has roughly 50 tomatoes on it!
My secret, you ask? Well, if I told this to my parent’s or grandparent’s generation no doubt they would chuckle at my ignorance in terms of reducing, re-using and recycling. You see, for the past couple of months, since living in our little cottage, by necessity I have been watering my outdoor plants using my kitchen sink “slops” – the rinse water from i.e. my blender after making my morning smoothie, rinsing fruit and vegetables and from hand washing dishes. This is because I have no outdoor spigot or hose so rather than use watering can after watering can of tap water, I thought I would just recycle some waste water that would just be going down the drain. The plants absolutely LOVE it. I have never had such a good crop. This can partly be explained by the fact that tomatoes, more than other plants, really require a steady moisture level in the soil. They don’t like to dry out completely, nor be flooded all the time, so a daily “slops” regimen at approximately the same times every day is just the sort of routine that allows for their optimal growth. I have not used any other fertilizer at all, just the kitchen waste water. Amazing! I will definitely be doing this again next summer and I recommend you to try it too. It’s just one of those old-fashioned practices that have fallen out of favour but which makes a whole lot of sense in terms of recycling.
And, of course, here also are the much requested before and after pictures of my cottage bedroom and dresser:

20130805-193611.jpg

20130805-193836.jpg

20130805-193848.jpg

Allotment Heaven!

For the 2nd year in a row, Burlington Green, working together with the City of Burlington, has offered garden allotments to the public via a lottery process.
29 8’X12′ garden beds plus 2 raised, accessible beds were offered in this years’ lottery, and, luckily, my daughter was able to get one.
This is such a marvelous opportunity for people to be able to grow their own, local produce if they don’t have the space for a garden where they live. In early Spring the beds are all ready to go – soil turned over, beds clean and tidy. There are rain barrels for every couple of plots as well as a hose hooked up to City water. Thanks to donations from community partners there are garden tools, gloves and even hats available for the budding gardeners.
If you have the space to grow a garden you should definitely do so. There’s nothing quite like the freshness and tastiness of something you have just plucked out of the ground. It’s also a lot easier than you think.
All you need are a few packets of seed or some bedding plants. Thanks to the potential energy contained in the seeds, all you really need to do is either broadcast the seeds directly over the soil, if the seeds are small, or push them down into the soil about 1/8″ if the seeds are larger. Mother Nature, the Sun and some diligent watering will take care of the rest.
If using bedding plants, dig a small hole, add a tablespoon or so of compost and bury your plant into the hole, making sure to tamp the soil around the plant firmly, to try to minimize air holes (air is the enemy of roots!).
If you have broadcast lettuce seeds then you will need to thin out the plants every couple of days to make sure they don’t get overcrowded, otherwise they will just perish. This is such a good method for having fresh salad greens every day, at least until the weather gets very hot, when the lettuce plants will hurriedly flower (called bolting), after which you can’t eat the lettuce as it’s too bitter.
Even if you just experiment with a few packets of lettuce and spinach seeds and maybe a tomato plant or two, your health and well-being are bound to improve. You get outside every day, plus you get to eat the fruits of your labour – how good is that?

20130604-205813.jpg

Burlington Green garden allotments at Central Park. Growing like mad!

 

20130604-205847.jpg

this is what happens when you broadcast lettuce seeds: mega salad!

 

20130604-205959.jpg

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album). A weed which is actually quite tasty!

 

image of cover page of The Rational person's guide to the Mayan Apocalypse

Happy (Mayan) New Year!

image of cover page of The Rational person's guide to the Mayan Apocalypse

Check out this Prezi presentation by clicking on the picture above

While last week’s “Mayan Apocalypse” was more like a tempest in a teacup, it might be worthwhile taking a look at another interpretation of the “Mayan New Year”.
The one I particularly like is that, having entered the Age of Aquarius, according to the Mayan Astrological calendar, we should, as a planet, experience a shift in thinking from the “fear and need” feelings represented by our lower 3 chakras to the “enlightened” thinking of the expanding upper 4 chakras – the heart, throat, brow and crown.
I know this likely sounds like so much gobbledygook, but if you look at it in a different light, it makes a lot of sense.
The ancient Mayans were obsessed with Math, Astronomy and Astrology. They were a multi-theistic society and very spiritual as a culture. They would have “Spirit Journeys” assisted by chewing on coca leaves and drinking their version of a fermented alcohol drink.

December 21, 2012 marked the beginning of the Mayan Long Year and much of their writings concentrated on the fact that this would be the End of the World as we know it. That we would be entering a world where…..break into song…….
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derision
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!
Oh, sorry! Couldn’t help myself! (lyrics from Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In by the Fifth Dimension, 1967)
First off: What are chakras? From both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions chakras are believed to be the energy centres responsible for carrying our vital life force, or qi, around to the various parts of our bodies along meridian lines, loosely corresponding to our nervous system. Acupuncture is based on the stimulation of certain points on the meridian lines by thin needles in order to positively affect the organ or gland corresponding to it.
According to some interpretations the first or lower 3 chakras have affected the earth and how we treat it for eons – as past and present warring cultures have acted from feelings of deficiency and fear for basic survival, causing countries to go to war over resources and land, causing us to rip the earth up for precious metals, oil and wood and using our very basic needs related to our sex instincts to sell everything from cars to alcohol. These 3 lower chakras start from the base of the spine or root chakra, which governs the adrenal medulla and gives us our fight or flight response, to the sacral chakra, which governs the sex hormones and gives us our primal instincts but is also responsible for violent feelings and addictions, to the solar plexus chakra, which governs the adrenal glands and is responsible for feelings of personal power, fear, anxiety and caring about the opinions of others.
In the Age of Aquarius, however, our upper 4 chakras are said to be expanding and maturing.
These are, again in order from bottom to top: the heart chakra, which governs the thymus gland, which is responsible for our feelings of compassion and unconditional love for self and others, but is also responsible for our immunity, as the thymus governs our T-killer cells maturation.
Next comes the throat chakra, which governs the thyroid gland and is responsible for our communication, as well as fluent thought and spirituality.
Then comes the brow chakra, governing the pineal gland. It is responsible for our intuition and having an introspective overview of our lives.
Finally the crown chakra right at the top of our heads. This governs the thalamus gland and is responsible for our connection to our Higher Power.
If we are to believe that we are finally ready to be driven by our upper 4 chakras (I’m ready! I’m ready!) then
4th) Heart Chakra – we create community – this is becoming so evident with the gigantic rise of social media and electronic communication. Who doesn’t email nowadays? The world has become a very small place indeed as we can instantly see what calamities and disasters are happening in every part of the globe. Our heartstrings are pulled and we give to those in need. The best example of this is indiegogo.com, a crowd funding platform where ordinary people donate insignificant amounts of money that collectively helps out individuals or small businesses who have a need for temporary short-term funding.
5th) Throat Chakra – we communicate – we speak the truth and tell the world about it. The “Occupy” and Native Rights movements are peaceful protests by people who refuse to stay silent anymore.
6th) Brow Chakra – we have clarity – we feel and know that governments, oil companies, big pharma, and banking institutions are only self-serving entities and we won’t trust them anymore.
7th) Crown Chakra – we have spiritual accountability – we know that there is a Higher Power that doesn’t care if we “worship” traditionally or not. Rather than just talking about God and being pious, we go out into the world and “do” and “help” as much as we can. Also see 4th chakra, above re: indiegogo.
So, with a bit of luck, it is the end of the world as we know it and with thanks to REM:
“You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched….it’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)”

What is a Quality Sofa?

How much does a sofa cost? What makes this sofa better than that one? Why does it cost more?

Image of the showroom at Gresham House furniture

These are questions I hear from my clients all the time. It’s confusing for consumers when it’s time to purchase new furniture. Not only do they have to pick a frame style and size, but then the covering fabric options can be almost limitless. Add to that the seating options – firm, soft, polyester, latex, feathers, down. It can become really daunting.

Firstly the Frame:

It’s really important, when considering sustainability and health, to go with a solid kiln-dried hardwood frame. There are a lot of other choices out on the market today, including solid plastic frames, but none has stood the test of time like hardwood. Furniture in museums from hundreds of years ago was built with hardwood frames. A hardwood frame will allow you to have the piece re-upholstered when the fabric wears out. Plastic or MDF frames do not have this option.

Image of upholstering a frame at Gresham House Furniture
Attention to every little detail is the hallmark of Gresham House

Seating:

For both health and sustainability, latex and feathers/down are the best options. Low quality polyester foam is extremely hazardous in terms of flammability and toxic fumes when in a fire. It also off-gasses toxic fumes for years when new. These fumes have been linked to various cancers, especially Breast cancer, and may also cause endocrine disruptions to you and future generations. Latex and high quality soy foam, feathers/down as well as wool, cotton and kapok are natural materials and are safer for you and your family.

picture of soy foam
High quality soy foam
Image of cotton batting
Cotton batting is used for cushioning

Fabrics:

A typical sofa requires 20 yards of covering fabric, 20 yards of lining, 15 yards of muslin and 10 yards of burlap. That’s over 65 yards of fabric! The lining, cushioning, muslin and burlap are normally natural fabrics but the covering fabric can be anything. The healthiest options are definitely the natural fabrics such as hemp, linen, wool, cotton and silk, listed in order of strength of the fabric fibre. All of these natural fibres also wick away moisture, regulate body heat, are durable and beautiful, and will decompose in the landfill, unlike synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic. Both polyester and acrylic fibres, while they may have a lot of strength, can off-gas for many years. Toxic monomer molecules may be trapped between the fibres that, even in very small quantities, are highly toxic when absorbed into the skin during contact.

Image of furniture on the showroom floor at Gresham House
So many beautiful styles at Gresham House

Manufacture: Local vs. Big Brand name

Canadian custom-made sofa manufacturers produce limited amounts of furniture in a craftsman-like way, where every piece of wood in the frame, every piece of fabric which is cut to cover the sofa has YOUR name on it. It’s made for you, and customized for you, using top quality materials and employing people locally. Yes, it’s going to cost more money than furniture from a big-box store which often comes from the tropics where the wood, foam and fabrics may have questionable origins and where the labour force may not make a living wage.

Is it worth it? Well, that all depends on your budget and priorities. If your budget is very small, then often the cheap and cheerful Ikea piece may be your only option, and that is perfectly fine. We ALL started with Ikea, I’m sure. But if you are looking for excellent quality, investment pieces that will last you a lifetime, and last through many children and grand-children jumping all over it, custom-made is the way to go. A custom sofa can be nearly the same price as a production one because it all depends on the fabric, but you normally need to consider spending twice to three times as much and also whether you are at a stage in your life that you can afford and appreciate it. A warning though: ask lots of questions about where your sofa is coming from and what the frame actually is. In recent years, due to the tough economic climate, some Big Brand manufacturers have converted to offshore production and plastic frames, but have kept the high prices as if they were still custom manufacturing. In this case, you’re only paying for the big name. Remember, a plastic frame can never be re-upholstered. This is where a qualified professional – interior designer or decorator can prove invaluable – navigating you through your many choices so you end up with a quality piece of furniture that fits your space, your style and your budget and can be healthier too!

What is a Quality Sofa?

How much does a sofa cost? What makes this sofa better than that one? Why does it cost more?

Image of the showroom at Gresham House furniture

Gorgeous furniture at Gresham House Furniture in Mississauga

These are questions I hear from my clients all the time. It’s confusing for consumers when it’s time to purchase new furniture. Not only do they have to pick a frame style and size, but then the covering fabric options can be almost limitless. Add to that the seating options – firm, soft, polyester, latex, feathers, down. It can become really daunting.

Firstly the Frame:

It’s really important, when considering sustainability and health, to go with a solid kiln-dried hardwood frame. There are a lot of other choices out on the market today, including solid plastic frames, but none has stood the test of time like hardwood. Furniture in museums from hundreds of years ago was built with hardwood frames. A hardwood frame will allow you to have the piece re-upholstered when the fabric wears out. Plastic or MDF frames do not have this option.

Image of upholstering a frame at Gresham House Furniture

Attention to every little detail is the hallmark of Gresham House

Seating:

For both health and sustainability, latex and feathers/down are the best options. Low quality polyester foam is extremely hazardous in terms of flammability and toxic fumes when in a fire. It also off-gasses toxic fumes for years when new. These fumes have been linked to various cancers, especially Breast cancer, and may also cause endocrine disruptions to you and future generations. Latex and high quality soy foam, feathers/down as well as wool, cotton and kapok are natural materials and are safer for you and your family.

picture of soy foam

High quality soy foam

Image of cotton batting

Cotton batting is used for cushioning

Fabrics:

A typical sofa requires 20 yards of covering fabric, 20 yards of lining, 15 yards of muslin and 10 yards of burlap. That’s over 65 yards of fabric! The lining, cushioning, muslin and burlap are normally natural fabrics but the covering fabric can be anything. The healthiest options are definitely the natural fabrics such as hemp, linen, wool, cotton and silk, listed in order of strength of the fabric fibre. All of these natural fibres also wick away moisture, regulate body heat, are durable and beautiful, and will decompose in the landfill, unlike synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic. Both polyester and acrylic fibres, while they may have a lot of strength, can off-gas for many years. Toxic monomer molecules may be trapped between the fibres that, even in very small quantities, are highly toxic when absorbed into the skin during contact.

Image of furniture on the showroom floor at Gresham House

So many beautiful styles at Gresham House

Manufacture: Local vs. Big Brand name

Canadian custom-made sofa manufacturers produce limited amounts of furniture in a craftsman-like way, where every piece of wood in the frame, every piece of fabric which is cut to cover the sofa has YOUR name on it. It’s made for you, and customized for you, using top quality materials and employing people locally. Yes, it’s going to cost more money than furniture from a big-box store which often comes from the tropics where the wood, foam and fabrics may have questionable origins and where the labour force may not make a living wage.

Is it worth it? Well, that all depends on your budget and priorities. If your budget is very small, then often the cheap and cheerful Ikea piece may be your only option, and that is perfectly fine. We ALL started with Ikea, I’m sure. But if you are looking for excellent quality, investment pieces that will last you a lifetime, and last through many children and grand-children jumping all over it, custom-made is the way to go. A custom sofa can be nearly the same price as a production one because it all depends on the fabric, but you normally need to consider spending twice to three times as much and also whether you are at a stage in your life that you can afford and appreciate it. A warning though: ask lots of questions about where your sofa is coming from and what the frame actually is. In recent years, due to the tough economic climate, some Big Brand manufacturers have converted to offshore production and plastic frames, but have kept the high prices as if they were still custom manufacturing. In this case, you’re only paying for the big name. Remember, a plastic frame can never be re-upholstered. This is where a qualified professional – interior designer or decorator can prove invaluable – navigating you through your many choices so you end up with a quality piece of furniture that fits your space, your style and your budget and can be healthier too!