March is all about DIY

Did your March come in like a lion?  It was a balmy -5 here, but activity-wise, mine was a lion.  Wall-to-wall activity all weekend.  Since the end of hockey season is on the horizon, however, I have a feeling that it will go out much more like a lamb.  A girl can dream.

What to do with all that extra time?!

Well, this month, we’re rounding up some great ideas for DIY.  Doing it yourself is becoming more and more popular.  Decorating, urban homesteading, home crafting, unscheduling; we’ve got a taste of all things DIY.

We’ll have a round-up of fun things to do in the city with kids if you are planning a staycation for March Break (sans camps).  We’ll have a week of posts about DIY with and for the kids.  And we’ll be discussing the pros and cons, the pleasures and perils, of DIY culture.

The video below is definitely one great success story about doing it yourself: Tree Change Dolls is the brain child of Sonia Singh, who found that the style of dolls available to girls was too artificial.  She took matters into her own hands, and decided to do something about it.  She finds discarded or second hand dolls and upcycles them by giving them a second chance with a make-under.  She scrubs off their make-up and restores them to a much more natural beauty.

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And here she is describing how Tree Change Dolls began.

 

You can find Tree Change Dolls on facebook and Tumblr.

 

 

 

What We’re Reading: February 2015

 

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From Beth-Anne

Elfrieda and Yolandi, two misfit sisters from an ultra-conservative Mennonite town outside of Winnipeg are at the centre of this critically acclaimed novel by Canadian writer, Miriam Toews.   At 17 years old, Elfrieda travels to Europe to pursue her dream of becoming a concert pianist. A protective, Italian agent that opens a world of opportunity, fame and culture embraces her. She spends decades travelling the world, playing the piano with such affection and magnetism that she ensnares the hearts of men and women alike. Her author-sister Yoli, transplanted to Toronto via two husbands and two children, flies home to Winnipeg to be at her sister’s side after Elf’s latest suicide attempt. Toews explores the complexities of suicide, depression, and relationships and the gamut of emotions that entangle when Elf begs Yoli to help her die. The writing feels anything by contrived, and the widely fluctuating feelings that Yoli expresses cut deep. Toews has been honest that writing this book proved to be cathartic in helping her to heal following the suicides of her father and sister.

I was ready for some levity following the intensity of All My Puny Sorrows and it came in the form of Professor Don Tillman. Don utilizes his keen scientific prowess to develop a survey to effectively weed-out unsuitable potential wives through a series of charming dating scenarios. Did I mention that he has Asperger’s? Eventually, Don does find his ideal wife in Rosie and together they move to New York (book 2) but all goes predictably haywire when Rosie finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The plot is expected and the characters fairly flat but sometimes a laugh and an escape is all you’re after. If that’s the case, these books do the trick nicely.

I enjoy reading autobiographies and often find myself gleaning inspiration from those who’ve achieved their hard-won accomplishments. After a string of politicians, I have returned to the entertainment industry with Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Sophia Loren is incredibly humble recounting her glamorous life. She begins by describing the atrocities she witnessed as a child growing-up in war-torn Italy and moves on to describe her ascent to fame and fortune as a leading lady of Italian cinema and eventually Hollywood. Throughout her recollections she is quick to acknowledge the team of talented individuals supporting her successful career and handful of loyal, passionate friends and family members who helped her to climb the ranks of the Hollywood elite. Despite opportunities to salaciously gossip about golden age celebrities, Loren chooses to be gracious and kind. Maybe her contemporary “Ms. Lollo” could take a lesson or two.

From Nathalie

doubleA Double Sorrow by Lavinia Greenlaw

I read this one twice.  A Double Sorrow is Greenlaw’s retelling of Chaucer’s Troilus & Criseyde.  It’s hauntingly beautiful, and the images from her poems lingered with me long after I had finished it.  Of Criseyde, she writes, “She leads a winter life.”  So stark, so rich in its brevity.  Her Troilus is less in love with Criseyde than he is with the idea of the stories that will be told of his love for her; he’s after fame.

If he ever fears he might not win her

He falls into some inward place of trees

Refusing any path that does not make of itself

The right answer.  Hope will emerge

Like a gentle green creature drawn from green shadows

To steady his gaze.

A fawn, soft in the wild,

Followed only by more of its kind.

After I had read the book, I wanted to read Chaucer’s original.  It was late on a Saturday night, and I asked my husband to stop at the bookstore on our way home from dinner out.  I climbed back into the car and laughed that I never, in all my life, would have expected to be doing a late night run for Chaucer.  He looked at me and said, “Oh, honey.  It’s really not as much of a stretch as you might think.”  Well, I still haven’t finished Chaucer’s telling, having grown very quickly irritated with all of the endless drama of courtly love.  Greenlaw’s telling, though, had me wanting so much more.

ChimneySweepers-cvr-thumbAs Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce is one of my all-time favourite characters.  She’s a sleuthing eleven year old, and she solves many of her cases with chemistry, at which she is extremely talented.  Precocious, fearless, grounded and not a little naive, she’s thoroughly endearing.  This installment of her sleuthing adventures brings her to Canada, which added a wonderful touch to these very Anglophilic country house murders.  If you have not yet met Flavia, begin at the beginning (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) and revel in the joy to come!  There are eight books in the series, and I have loved every one.

 

 

The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

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This beautiful book is published by Chronicle, and the idea was to pair an illustrator with a scientific question, and to enrich information with illustration.  I really loved the combination of quick hits of science paired with illustrations that brought out aspects of the topic that the words did not always touch upon, and found myself making note of all kinds of trivia:

  • Humans have more in common with ants than with any other species (division of labour, roles in society, high level of social dependency).
  • The size of a squirrel’s brain increases during caching season.
  • The number of “dees” in a chickadee’s call describes the size of a predator.
  • Scientists recently discovered a spore that was about 250 million years old within a salt crystal; the bacterium was revived.  Immortality is theoretically possible.
  • Fingerprints help us grip wet things, which is why our fingers shrivel and make deeper channels when they are soaked in water.
  • Yawning is only contagious in humans capable of empathy; contagious yawning is not observed in children under five.
  • When we are deprived of sleep, proteins begin to lose their structural integrity, and they unfold, building up in the cells and becoming toxic.  You can die from sleep deprivation because you are essentially being poisoned.  During sleep, special “cleanup molecules” (their imprecise words, not mine!) help to reverse the unfolded protein response.
  • The DNA in our cells does not age.  The human species has maximized its chances to pass on traits, but only as a species, not as individuals.  Individual aging is irrelevant to the continuation of our species.

From Carol 

how of happinessI can be a bit of a sucker when it comes to self-help books, but The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyurbomirsky does boast a difference:  this book is written by a research psychologist and professor who takes a scientific approach in analyzing data on what makes people happy.  The result is a research-based understanding of what happiness is, and what practices help us achieve it.  Lyurbomirsky asserts that if happiness were a pie, 50% of it is determined by a genetic set-point (some of us are born perkier than others), 10% is influenced by circumstance (rich or poor, healthy or ill), and a whopping 40% is based on our intentional activities, ie. within our control!.  How so?  Based on her research, she identifies the various ways in which people have increased their happiness – ranging from living in the present, to practicing gratitude and positive thinking, to investing in social relationships, to committing to your goals, and much more.  She also provides readers with guidance on how to choose which of these practices to pursue themselves for the greatest happiness impact.  I recognize myself in some of these practices, and feel inspired by others, and am thoroughly enjoying this read.

 

 

Second-Hand Fashion Gems in Toronto

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There was a time when second-hand shopping meant sifting through piles of worn and stained clothing, but these days are long gone. Clothes are no longer passed on primarily because they’re worn out, but for lots of other reasons:  frequently changing tastes, impulse buys that didn’t pan out, ill-fitting clothes (as mothers know very well, our bodies change), and unused gifts (lots of items still have tags on them).

The result is that there are heaps of high quality, lovely pieces that are being recirculated, and it is a lot of fun to get in on the game. With so many options are available for scoring unique, good-looking clothing, the fashionistas peruse the second-hand offerings right next to the bargain hunters and the eco-minded (buying second-hand leaves a smaller footprint than buying new) and on as regular a basis.

So what exactly are these options?  For those who want a gentle approach to second-hand and love high fashion and the brands that bring it, you can’t get much better than Thrill of the Find (1172 Queen Street East).  Clothing in perfect condition is neatly hung in this boutique shop, and the staff helps you get the perfect high fashion find at a fraction of the cost you’d normally pay.  There are a lot of beautiful dresses in the shop, along with a slightly imperfect rack for those among us who know our way around a needle and thread.

A little farther east is Gadabout (1300 Queen Street East), an overflowing vintage shop selling all kinds of old things, including some very interesting clothes.  Vintage clothing is an important part of Toronto’s fashion scene, and though I don’t belong to this world, I encountered it once at Gadabout when I was shopping for my wedding dress.  When trying on a beautiful vintage baby blue knee-length dress with an empire waist and cream trim, I caught the attention of two designers who were shopping there also; they promptly offered their advice for how the dress could be adjusted to be just right.  Like Thrill of the Find, Gadabout is not necessarily inexpensive because of how specialized it is (and the designers pointed this out), but it is a good shop carrying a wide range of things, and if you find something you love, you can be quite sure you’ll not find it elsewhere.  (And I probably would have gotten married in that baby blue dress (which cost about $200) had my husband not finally confessed that he really would prefer I wear a white one.)

Hands down, my favourite local second-hand haunt is my neighbourhood Value Village (924 Queen Street East).  This is your trusty department thrift store – the rectangular shop is stocked with utilitarian shelves and hangers, but there are some treasures among the more mundane offerings, and the prices are cheap (although they are not as cheap as they used to be, due to its increased popularity).  Clothing is organized by type (sweater, long-sleeved shirt, skirt) and size, but you are much better off going to browse than looking for anything in particular.  I have bought many things that I really like and use here, and my niece bought her prom dress here, confident that she wouldn’t encounter another girl in the same dress.

Do you have any favourite second-hand neighbourhood stores or experiences?

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Toronto Fashion Find: Coats by Mary Ellen for the Perfect Custom Coat

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This gallery contains 5 photos.

Years ago Carol once said to me, “You vote with your dollars”. It’s something that stuck. I live in Toronto, a close walk to two major streets that are lined with shops, restaurants and general services. Even if it means … Continue reading

Local Treasure: Trove

Matt & Nat's Deeter in Citrus

Matt & Nat’s Deeter in Citrus

I don’t really enjoy shopping, unless it’s in a bookstore.  Shopping for clothes leaves me cold, at best, and fills me with frustration, often.  Mostly, shopping for clothes is functional, and usually, I just want to get it over with.

That is, unless, I’m looking at one-of-a-kind, fun and funky things, and then, then, I get in the zone.  The One of A Kind Show always has me captivated, and as much as I want to see other’s creations on me, I revel in their very creativity.

What a delight, then, to have Trove in my neighbourhood.  It’s fun and funky, but not so out there that a forty-something like me can’t find something that fits her to a T.  They carry Matt & Nat’s vegan leather bags, a serious weakness for this shop-wary soul.  They have the best shoes, and I always struggle to limit myself to one pair, and this from a woman who prides herself on her very disdain for shoes and spends money on books while chanting, “At least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes.”  They have unique jewellery whose relevance will last past the next issue of the fashion magazines.  They have statement pieces of clothing, shoes, bags and jewellery that make a statement other than, “I will expire by midnight.”

Mimi & Marge Antler Ring

Mimi & Marge Antler Ring

Somehow, the collections they carry manage to be up-to-the minute but not doomed to be immediately stale.   And the good news is, Trove is expanding and on-line, so now you, too, could be the proud owner of a pair of shoes that speak to your book-loving soul.  Behold!  The Poetic Licence Secret Admirer Boot:

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Local Fashion Finds in Toronto

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We hope you’ve been enjoying our month of fashion and beauty ruminations.  To round off, we’ll be telling you about our favourite local fashion finds this week.

High end, thrifting, making your own – what’s your style when it comes to looking great in Toronto?  Does big city living boast so many options that the overflowing choice leaves you unsure of where to start?  Or do you thrive on the ever-changing world of fashion that graces our city?

This week, catch a glimpse of 4 Mothers’ varied thoughts on this, as we tell you about our experiences and what exactly it is that we’ve found – you might be surprised!

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Mike the Knight in the Great Scavenger Hunt Coming to Toronto on February 28

MK_ScavHunt_Artwork_NoWhiteWe’re excited to be taking our littlest boys to Mike the Knight in the Great Scavenger Hunt on February 28 at the Sony Centre in Toronto (it’s being performed in 45 Canadian cities)! Based on the popular animated series, this musical theatre performance promises to take audiences on an interactive medieval adventure complete with trolls and flying dragons.  What more can we ask for?

Mike the Knight pursues his chivalrous quest with friendly dragon companions Sparkie and Squirt, buddy Trollee, and his wizard-in-training sister Evie.  The show appeals to preschoolers who follow Mike’s on his many discoveries, including the importance of responsibility – after all, his motto is “Be a knight, do it right!”.

Our sons like this series, which is fun-loving and full of adventure, dress-up and imaginative play.  We’re sure the theatrical production will be a hit too.  We’re looking forward to take our littlest boys to a show meant especially for them – no tagging along to an event geared towards their older brothers next Saturday – we’re going to spend some great one-on-one time just with them and a musical little knight.

Learn more about show here. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.ca or by phone at (855) 985-5000.  

H20 Float Spa – Floating to Relaxation


float spa 2I first heard about the float spa from Beth-Anne.  The synopsis: you enter a large water capsule, close the lid and lie there in the dark.  I believe she may have referred to it as a nightmare.

I was like, “Oo, I want to try!”  And in honour of 4 Mothers’ reviews of interesting spas this week, I did. And it was really quite cool.

My local H20 Float Spa, conveniently located on Danforth Avenue, offers two float pods (with lids) and two open concept float rooms (large enough for a couple to float together).  I opted for the pod, which really is large water capsule with a lid, perhaps the size of a queen size bed, filled with 10 inches of water and filled with 1000 pounds of Epsom salts.  At this concentration (higher than the Dead Sea), the body naturally floats to the surface without any effort, which in turn is conducive to deep states of relaxation.

It was this selling point that got me: I am trying to meditate more, and was curious about doing so in the pod.  What would it be like?

The water in the pod is comfortable but not hot – you can’t float for an hour in water that is too hot.  It’s normally kept at body temperature (34 degrees) although when I mentioned to the attendant booking my appointment over the phone that I get cold easily, he increased the temperature a degree or two for my session.  I slipped into the water and immediately was buoyed up.

The attendant had asked me if I wanted cream to cover any cuts on my body, but I didn’t think I had any. Apparently I had small cuts on some cuticles though, and the high salt content of the water meant that the stinging was distracting enough that I buzzed the attendant (there’s a button in the pod for this) to request the cream after all.  I generously applied (and reapplied) this and felt better. (Luckily I hadn’t shaved before floating; I later learned this is not recommended because any little nicks in the skin will sting too.)  I also inserted little spots of wax into my ears; apparently you don’t want the salt water entering the ear cavities.

It’s possible to plug in music to the pod, which I think would be an amazing experience, but for my first try, I wanted just silence.  When I was ready, I reached up for the handle to close the capsule.  When the lid actually clicked shut over me, I had a moment of startled awareness of enclosure. And the sudden, completely absence of light. There was a subtle green glow in the pod when the lid was open, now with it shut, there was a short window of reddish darkness, and then just black darkness.  Pure sensory deprivation.

It was quite amazing.  Weightless, with absolutely no difference to my sight whether my eyes were open or closed, I began my mindful meditation practice.  With so little sensation, what was there was heightened.  I was very aware of the water, its temperature and mine, its texture on my skin (so very smooth), and also what parts of my body were covered by it or exposed. The sounds of my breath were intensified, and almost foreign as it got deeper. My mind wandered (it always does – my meditations are a work in progress), but there was very little external stimulus.  And I don’t think I have ever heard my own heartbeat so prominent and plain.

The one meaningful distraction was the periodic rumble of the subway that makes the location so convenient; in my sensitive state I could both hear and feel this.  I took this in stride with my meditation but could imagine a purer experience without it – some music might mask this beautifully.

I’m fairly sure I fell asleep and woke a few times.  Towards the end of my hour, my meditative state ended, and I very nearly opened the lid (although I didn’t – the lights came on just a few minutes later to signal the end of my session).  I began to wonder:  how much oxygen is in this pod, and was my breathing a bit more laboured than when I started?  In other words, I began to experience some mild anxiety. But I recognized this, and was not actually worried; I had just left my relaxed state.  I finished up with a leisurely hot shower in my floating room, and ended my spa with a hot cup of sweetened tea and an orange.

As Beth-Anne astutely observed from the beginning, the floating pod isn’t for everyone.  Even though there’s only 10 inches of water, I think you have to be really comfortable with water – no fear of it at all – to enjoy the experience.  Also, you have to be a-okay with the dark and small spaces (although it’s absolutely possible to float with the lights on and the lid up, but you’ll be missing the main experience of sensory deprivation).

If you are good on these fronts, by all means, give it a go.  I’m not sure I’ll become a regular, mostly because I rarely go to spas in general, but it was an unforgettable experience and a very good meditation session. The attendant told me that there are some excellent meditators who book three hour sessions. (I had asked him my oxygen question, and he explained that there is a filter inside the pod that is constantly monitoring oxygen levels and adding air so very long sessions are possible.)

And if the pod isn’t quite up your alley, the open concept floating rooms sound very accessible.  There were only couples in the waiting room when I was paying and wrapping up; a casual testimonial, I thought, that floating in the dark with your lover probably makes for an excellent date.  One thing is sure: you wouldn’t soon forget it.

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