Best Green Tip: Mindful Consumption


When I think of favourite green tips, long laundry lists come to mind, so I’ve opted instead for maybe one over-arching tip.  I think ultimately, if you want to respect the earth you’re living on and dependent upon, you need to practice mindful consumption.

What does mindful consumption mean?  To me, it means being intentional about buying and consuming goods and services, with an explicit, unwavering knowledge that everything we buy requires resources from the earth.  Being mindful about those purposes means thinking about whether our consumption has appropriate value to us considering its real cost.

This real cost goes beyond the sticker price and asks what was the cost to the person who made or grew it, and the earth that produced it?  How much energy did it require to bring it to you and how much packaging will go in the garbage after it is consumed?   How much pleasure does it give you and for how long, and what is the quality of that pleasure?

I read somewhere that spending money means voting with our dollars, and I believe it’s true.  Money talks.  Whether we are conscious of it or not, the way we spend our money translates into supporting people, companies and practices.  I may not have much money, but I’ve got some, and I like the idea of wielding whatever power may be in it in the direction I choose.

The beautiful thing about mindful consumption is that it brings one’s purchases into alignment with what you actually believe, and maybe even helps you to define what that is.  Spending less on the-everything-that’s-everywhere will mean having more to invest in what matters most to you.   Being mindful about how we consume is a path to clarity, respect for the earth, and peace of mind, which naturally makes it priceless.






049Yesterday when I was at a restaurant with a friend and our collective five children, she turned to comment on how my two year old’s speech has really blossomed.  His talking also included borderline yelling, lots of demands, and utensils banging on the table – this in addition to the racket from the other kids.  “Actually,” I replied, “I just want him to stop talking.”

I don’t, of course, not really, so I should have known something was off.  I promptly fell asleep with all three kids at 8pm and waking up half an hour later realized I was plain sick, and so were two of my three boys, which was a big part of the reason why dinner wasn’t more fun.

Morning came too soon, with dripping nose and ringing head, presenting a full, uninterrupted day with toddler bearing similar symptoms.  Judge me if you must, but I asked my five year old to stay home from school to help me take care of his younger brother (they play with each other, and having two is often easier than having one).  The angel said yes.  My kindergartener said, and I quote, “I can take care of him and maybe you can take a nap.”

The nap didn’t happen, but the childcare by the child did.  My two younger boys played forts and some other things that I didn’t register.  They watched some television and ate whatever leftovers I put forward for lunch.  I floated around in a fog.

After picking up my oldest from school, the usual mayhem of late afternoon led me by the nose into a couple of parental tantrums.  I was unreasonable, I know, but I did make some efforts.  We made people sandwiches of ourselves on the bean bag.  We did pull out the woodworking that they are always asking to work on.   I cooked, as opposed to warmed up, a dinner.

Doing isn’t the same as being, so listing these efforts gives me only partial comfort; I really wasn’t great to be around.  The best part of the evening was facilitated by the house illness that had facilitated the worst bits:  my two year old asked during dinner to go to bed, and fell asleep early.  This meant more reading time for the older boys, and because my middle had fallen asleep without me noticing in the car, he was awake at his bedtime and joined my oldest and me during our homework window.

My boys flanked me on either side while we read chapter upon chapter of On the Banks of Plum Creek of the Little House series.  So far as I can tell, these books are largely a love letter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ma and Pa, who are a perfect combination of loving, firm, gentle, giving, and playful parents and spouses.  I think about this sometimes as I am reading to my boys, and the contrast to the imperfect combination of traits that is me.

Then again, that is a book while these are actually the days that we’re living.  I believe more than ever that perfection is the enemy of the good.  I called on my five year old to help me today because I am imperfect, I was impatient with my children because of same.  But I was also there, in the bed, holding them with stories to close the day, as I am almost all of our days.  It is not perfect, but it is good, and maybe it is good enough.


Crafting with Kids: Pour Painting

008A new commitment means my mother hasn’t been able to come over for her weekly visits; instead she’s been offering weekly day visits and a sleepover to my youngest. This has opened up a window of opportunity for the bigger boys and me to do some things that aren’t so well suited to toddlers, and we actually have time to do them because some extra-curriculars have waned.

Without further ado, we tried pour painting. There should be a better name for this, there must be and I’m too encased in my own little cave to know.  Pour painting is so… literal.  Because the method is as simple as this:

1. Take a canvas (or sturdy piece of cardboard) and prime the surface (including the sides) with a coat of paint. (Try to do next steps while primer is still wet.)


2. Pour or squeeze pools of paint (we used acrylics) onto the paint surface.  We did this two ways:  first, pouring little pools of paint hither and thither and then tilting the canvas in various directions to let the paint run; and second, pouring multiple colours of paint in the centre of the canvas over and over until it spilled off the edges.

3. Repeat step 2 as many times as needed until the surface is completely covered with paint.  (I was doing this project alongside the kids so didn’t take pictures during the process, but here’s more detail and instruction from the Housing a Forest.)

And that’s it! It’s hard to go wrong, and you’ll end up with a painting that’s colourful and evokative.



A couple of notes… our paint cracked a bit as it dried where the colours met each other. I’m not sure how to avoid this and was a bit disappointed at first, but I think the paintings still work overall.

Also, we used a lot of paint. Not nearly as much as I bought, mind you, but the paint was very thick and required more than a day to dry. The canvas could handle this easily but if you’re using another surface, it really needs to be sturdy for this project. I also used cardboard under the canvasses to capture the paint that will spill off as regular paper will get wet and tear.

I have a few much bigger canvasses and think this project would be beautiful for decorating a wall; I can also imagine a few collected together. Also, doing the pour painting over an object, such as an inverted clay pot, is another fun project with beautiful results, so it’s on our spring list too (maybe to use as a special holder for a special seed).

And if you really want to be inspired by the possibilities of pour painting, check Holton Rower’s Tall Painting:

Groupon Gaffs: Why I Don’t Buy Them Anymore

grouponAt first it seemed like such a good idea, this group buying thing.  It’s all online (I don’t like shopping much), it’s quick (instanteous gratification, here we come), and it’s a deal (who doesn’t like a deal?).  And I did have two significant successes with it that I’m sure I otherwise wouldn’t have had:  I took my five year old on a helicopter ride, and I bought memory foam-type pillows made of natural materials which I absolutely love (actually this was not through Groupon, but a similar eco-friendly version, but I can’t recall the company).

Spurred on these early successes, I bought more group coupons and promptly proceeded to make poor purchases.  I usually circumvent such consumeristic ploys, so I was surprised at how long it took for me to realize that I was donating quite a bit of money to Groupon.  A list, then, of my mistakes, once I finally realized I was making them.

1.  Buying Groupons as a Way to Uncover New Restaurants.  I thought this might be a fun way to scope out places for date night.  So not.  I bought a coupon for a restaurant that looked interesting (and read up about it), only to drive by and discover it was little more than a cafeteria – we didn’t go in.  Another for a restaurant that we never seemed to want to go to when date night arrived.  Another for a restaurant in Greek town, so we felt we had to go there rather than the neighbouring restaurants we would have preferred.  Once, we arrived at the restaurant to discover it was spontaneously not open for lunch anymore.  Also, the value of the coupons never seemed great.

2.  Not Redeeming Them by the Expiry Date, some of which are quite short, especially around the holidays.  Although you don’t lose the money that you spend on the groupon, just the promotional value, there’s not much incentive to go shopping without this carrot.  Now I’m just stuck with what amounts to a bunch of credit notes to a bunch of stores, and I’ll probably have to spend more money to not lose the money I’ve already spent/lost.

3.  Not Reading the Fine Print.  I bought an ice cream cake for half price (deal!).  And I can save my $17 provided I travel to Ajax, just 75 kilometres from where I live.  I thought the branch was down the street…. no.

4.  Not Paying Enough Attention to Quality.  Sometimes I think I haven’t heard of Photoshop.  I mean, everything looks so pretty in the pictures.  A couple of would-be gifts were kind of ungiftable.  Although all was not lost:  a necklace intended for a tween niece made another girl very happy on her third birthday.

And the biggie…

5.  Buying Things I Don’t Really Want Because Groupon Suggested It.  At the crux of it all.  When did I put my brain on hold?

If I see something that I really want, and if it is in my area, and if it is during a convenient period during which I can actually use the voucher, I may buy another Groupon.  It must be possible to use Groupon without it using me.  But the stack of useless coupons on my desk shows that this doesn’t happen much and I’m tired of being a sucker.  Groupon, be gone!

image credit

My Dreamy (And Not So Dreamy) Vacation With Children

thI’ve travelled a lot, to many countries on different continents, often alone, sometimes for weeks at a time, sometimes for many months.  I’ve also  been on several trips for extended periods in and around Malaysia, where I was born.

I went for the usual reasons:  I was curious; I wanted to expand my understanding of the world and my place in it; I wanted to test my abilities and limits.  It worked, I think, as well as it could.  One key discovery while away:  a full schedule with lots of sites and stops brings me down.  I travel better with depth, not breadth; as with so many other things in my life, less became more.  I began to take trips to fewer places for longer periods of time.  Slowly I discovered that, as fascinating as a locale may be, getting to know people living in those places was more interesting to me.  What I most want, wherever I am, is to find a friend and be invited over to tea.

I know there is still so much to see and learn, but lately my taste for travel has tapered off.  I find myself staying where I am more, and as my adventures in sustainability focus on local living, I am increasingly interested and invested in being at home.

Which is complicated because I am an immigrant, and home for me will always be found in Malaysia which is almost precisely halfway around the world.  Most of my relatives are still there, and they welcome us so completely when we return that it feels as if we haven’t left.  They remain the biggest imperfection of our otherwise perfectly acceptable transition to Canada.

My perfect dream travel with my children has a direct and easy answer:  I would take them to Malaysia and we would live there, with or close by my relatives.   We would visit family, close and extended, and smile and nod politely to the ones we can’t speak to (I have tried unsuccessfully with my mother to teach my children the Chinese dialect we speak, and for which there are no schools).  We’d go to the hawker stalls for fried snacks, spicy dinners, and icy desserts.

We’d follow my cousin on her jungle treks and go swimming off the islands that the locals and visitors alike visit during their holidays.  We’d visit the steaming cities, crowded with stores and people and slithering highways.  We’d travel to the rural areas, where people live in houses on stilts to stay dry during the rainy season and cool during the rest of the year.  We’d notice how much less they use and need to live their lives, doing the things we do but differently, and why that is.  We’d shadow my aunt in her kitchen, observe while she goes marketing, in hopes of unraveling and perhaps recording the secrets of her catering success and superb culinary reputation.  We’d be held in her arms while we stayed for tea.

The thing about this dream vacation – and there is no other one I want nearly as much for my children – the thing that makes it not so dreamy is that it’s a vacation.  No matter how long it is, it will end.  This doesn’t matter so much when a vacation is for fun, but when it’s for family, it’s really not very good.  I think my kids would be fine and of course the hope is that they’d finish a trip like this with an expanded sense of who they are, and it would all be worth it.  But for me coming home also means leaving home, and I’ve never quite gotten used to it.


A Bag’s Not My Bag

045I may as well spill it:  I don’t have a bag.  Okay, maybe I’ll find one for a wedding or something (and then I’ll forget it near a staircase or behind a chair when it’s time to go home).

What I do carry, and have always carried, is a knapsack.  First, I have a fussy back, and weight distribution over two shoulders is important.  But also, a knapsack is big.  It’s big, baby.  Which is helpful when you are a mom of three young kids and need – let’s face it – a tote.  It’s so helpful, in fact, that I don’t even have it as I write this:  my husband has taken the children out for a bike ride, carrying necessary miscellany in my knapsack.

From my memory, it contains:

0481.  My wallet, a la George Costanza.  Actually I never really watched Seinfeld, but so many people likened my wallet to George, that I just accepted it.  Did you know that searching “George Costanza” brings up “George Costanza wallet” as the second option in the drop down list?  Who knew?  Well, all the world I suppose, and now I do too having just watched this clip.  I confess I see a wallet likeness.  Anyway, like George, I defend the monstrosity, even if it won’t comfortably close, because it houses so very much in one (sort of small) package.  Some people see it and see disarray, but for me, it’s pure order.  There’s even a pouch where I keep single earrings.  Confession: I did take my wallet out of my knapsack yesterday to lighten it for a trip to the beach.

2.  The keys to our rental car while on vacation (no actual metal key because it’s a hybrid, which starts by pressing a button).  This is the car that we picked up at night, noticing only during daylight the long, fresh scratch that runs six feet down one side of the car.

3.  Floss.  I try not to leave home without it.

4.  Lip balm and hand creams of some kind.  Critical to basic skin comfort, especially in winter.

5.  Hand-sewn tissue holder, bought in support of my children’s school fair.  I love it, but am not great about ensuring it’s filled.  Thus, my mother-in-laws donated plastic tissue packet nearby.

6.  Balloons.  Obviously.

7.   A pair of mittens.  Found in a forgotten pouch, and which gratefully I don’t need at the moment, but may well wear when I get home.

8.  A mini-set of crayons, from a restaurant somewhere, sometime.

9.  A book.  Sometimes I don’t carry one to lose the weight, but I *so* regret it when I have an unexpected window to read and don’t have one on hand.  I Hate to Cook Book (1960), loaned to me by a friend who just celebrated her eightieth birthday, offers this introduction:

Some women, it is said, like to cook.

This book is not for them.

This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition:  childbearing, paying taxes, cooking.  This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwasher hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.

042When my husband came home with the knapsack, and I unpacked all of the kids clothes, I found the following:

9.  Two types of cough drops:  Riccola and Halls.

10.  A digital camera and carrying pouch.

11.  Various receipts (which should really be in my wallet).

12.  Two more sets of keys – my husband’s and mine.

13.  Packet of Yellow Currant Tomato seeds, from a seed exchange at the Brickworks (I got tons of seeds, this packet is just lost and now found).

14.  A reusable water bottle – a big one.

15.  3 pens, 4 paperclips, 1 hair tie, children’s dental floss.

16.  A candy wrapper, which I consider the only piece of garbage in my bag.  Your possibly different interpretation I hope you keep to yourself.


A Sugar Snow and the Spirit of Winter

sugar snowToronto (and surrounding areas) just emerged from a snowstorm.  Inches on snowy white fell everywhere, blown about by gusty winds, which made daytime temperatures of -7 degrees celsius feel more like -17 (overnight temps felt like -30).  Usual mayhem ensued:  delayed flights, chaos on the roads, cancelled programs and plans.  Life had me on the roads to a suburb and back again in the thick of the storm, meaning I drove was in a car for two and a half hours to travel less than 70 miles.

But my boys and I are reading the Little House series and through all the snowy inconveniences, I kept thinking, maybe it’s a sugar snow.  In the Little House in the Big Woods and Sugar Snow, an early reader based on the original book, Pa explains to his girls that a sugar snow is a soft, thick snowfall late in the season that helps the maple trees make more sap for tapping and boiling into maple syrup.  I don’t know if our snowfall fell too early to constitute a sugar snow, but I hope it does.  It was nice to think of a larger picture, of natural consequences, of an elemental order to the snow that had nothing to do with the city gridlock while I was stuck in it.

Trying to get in the spirit, we’ve gotten ourselves ready to make maple candy atop the freshly fallen snow – I’m already looking forward to the taffy stage of the candy-making and praying my fillings stay in my teeth.  I also have plans to take our kids to a sugar bush maple festival – we’ve been to this one in the past and will be perusing this list for more ideas.  These trips are always a good time.

And then there was the hat-less man who knocked on my door soliciting something or other, while eating a giant freezie the colour of anti-freeze.  When I asked him how he could do so on such a frigid day, he bounded back with, “Oh, I’m a snowboarder and skier – I wait for this weather and I love it!”  It’s true that it’s probably easier for the young, strapping fellow who probably never gets cold to embrace the winter, but I’m going to try to channel him anyway.  It is pretty outside, I do enjoy the miracle of central heating, the snows really will be gone soon, and maybe the maple farms will have a good year.


Kids and Science: Experimenting with Ice, Salt and Colour


You may have heard mention around here that it’s been an intense winter… and we’re still in it.  Last week we got into the spirit of ice and did a melting experiment at home inspired by this from Jean at the Artful Parent.  You probably have everything you need in your home:  ice chunks (made from bowls and mugs of various sizes), salt, and food colouring or watercolour paints.  You’ll also need a tray with a lip to contain the melted ice – baking trays worked well for us.  It’s nice to have droppers to add the dyes/paints, although you could also just slowly pour some of the liquid from a teaspoon.

It’s an easy and fun project that beautifully demonstrates the melting action of salt when it comes into contact with ice.  When sprinkled on, the salt crystals will bore holes and crevices into the ice upon contact.  Adding food dyes (which we used) or watercolour paints to the salted ice illuminates these miniature pathways with colour.  The results were striking.





I think I can fairly say this is the most successful crafting project I’ve done with all three boys (7, 5 and 2) so far.  All three were completely engaged and, praise be!, my littlest could participate fully.  They love ice, just touching it, they enjoyed applying the salt, squeezing the drops of food dye from their little containers (each drop makes a dramatic difference), and using our own droppers to play around with the coloured water that pooled around the ice on the trays.


They stayed at it for a good, long while.  Toward the end, I was hanging around the kitchen island watching them work and waiting for them to finish); they needed no assistance or input from me.  It was a bit messy, and their sleeves were wet (my two year old’s shirt was pretty wet too), but it was easy to clean up.  It was well worth it, and really quite pretty.

And Canadian winter that we’re in, this ice project will probably reflect the weather outdoors for a few weeks yet…



The 5 Languages of Meh, by Guest Blogger Amanda from Family Nature

amanda picWhen my friend, Carol, first talked to me about guest posting on 4 Mothers, I jumped at the chance. What an honour!

I read the first topic and thought, great! Then I read the second topic, The 5 Love Languages … hmm, sounds interesting. I’d never heard of it and I was intrigued.

Can I tell you a secret? I read the article which summarized the 5 Love Languages and I’ve been agonizing over what to write ever since.  I hate to be a Debbie Downer but it just didn’t resonate with me. At. All. In fact, I thought some of the ideas were totally bogus. Eek! Does this make me a guest-blogger-failure? I hope not!

I’ll just say right off the bat that “Receiving Gifts” was a weird one. Giving or receiving gifts is a language of love? I thought that it either (a) assumed people had the money to spend on such gifts or (b) if you go with the it-doesn’t-have-to-cost-a-lot-of-money-idea just made me think of dollar store junk, or things that are cheap, or things that are meaningless – because you’re only buying/making/finding things because you think it will show someone that you love them. I don’t know. The idea that material things are an expression of love doesn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive gifts, but I thought this was really a reflection of the world in which we live – one of over-consumption and obsessed with the collection of material things.

“Acts of Service” was another one that irked me. As soon as I saw the title it immediately made me think of gender binarism. Maybe it’s the term “service” that rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed to me a throwback to the bad ol’ days where a woman was expected to serve her husband. I know, I know, the summary article actually says to be mindful of the stereotypes. But still, I can’t help but detect a whiff of the patriarchy here.

The others: “Words of Affirmation”, “Quality Time”, and “Physical Touch”. Okay, sure. I guess. We all like some of these things more than others. I’ll give the authors that.

The author, Dr. Gary Chapman says, “love is a decision, not a feeling”. How utterly unromantic. Sorry, Doc, no. No way. Not for me.

Finally, the fact that his website directly targets churches, and that the author has written religious books makes me want to run away.

So, I kind of hated The 5 Languages of Love. Umm, ya … awkward.

*crickets chirping*

So anyways, how ‘bout them Maple Leafs?


Amanda is a Toronto mum of four kids; three boys and a girl; ages 6 to 12. She writes about life as a busy mum, touching on food allergies, feminism, ADD, stuttering, gardening and a million other things.  Amanda blogs at Family Nature.

Photo by schizofom via Flickr

5 Love Languages: Insight on How to Live Life

2011_09-10 - various 143Sometimes, even though I feel like I’m going about the business of my life in a reasonable way, I seem to stumble into invisible walls or get jostled by unseen hands.  Sometimes these forces feel mean-spirited, other times just indifferent – always, they’re mysterious.  My troubles navigating through makes me feel that there must be some resource out there, maybe a book called How to Live Life, that everyone else has read but that my mother forgot to give me, and I’m forever compromised as a result.

That’s kind of a dramatic beginning to a blog post, and maybe I should delete it, but the basic point is that personally I find life confusing.  So when I come across an idea or a resource that helps to sort it out, I tend to get excited.  Thus my suggestion that 4Mothers talk about The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman even though I’ve never read the book because even this article‘s synopsis felt like a mini-revelation (and yes, I know the expression that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing but am ignoring it).

Sure, we all like to be affirmed verbally, get presents, share a good hug, have someone lend a helping hand, and spend time together.  But the thought that some of these lovely things might carry different weight depending on the person resonated with me right away.  I immediately identified the two most important to me and to my husband (four different languages, no less).  And when I told my husband about the article, he identified the same preferences in both of us.

It helped to know this.  Not in some our-lives-are-unrecognizably-changed way, but in layering a fresh sheet of understanding over our everyday affairs.  It connects the requests and workings of our lives into a larger context.  He’s not just bohemian by wanting to go out more than I do; he values quality time.  I’m not just a pro nag; acts of service are important to me.  The concept of the 5 love languages provides a lens through which to see the higher virtue behind what might otherwise remain mundane and middling.

These ideas quickly made their way beyond my immediate family, and I found myself with new thoughts around how various people in my life might differently express and receive affection.  And if I dare move into the realm of broad generalization, I even saw relevance in a broader cultural context, discovering insights between the different ways my husband’s family (from the southern U.S.) and my family (from Malaysia) view things.  So that’s why we had those differences of opinion about the wedding! and that sort of thing.

Some people are probably too evolved and in tune with love and life to have this kind of response to a magazine article of any kind.  Not me.  Me, I’m still on the lookout for that missing life manual I mentioned up in paragraph one and if I find a stray few paragraphs on topic here and there, I’m grateful.  There’s a lot of love in my life, thank the good universe, and I meet with open arms anything that adds a layer of compassion or understanding to help me more fully appreciate it.