Saturday, 30 April 2011

Gardening: In the Beginning

I've finally gotten underway!  Bought some soil, some seeds, and while I'm not going to risk planting outside yet in case of another freak snowstorm, I wanted to get the home grown veggies and herbs started.

Since this is my first year of having my own garden, I decided to experiment with some seeds to see how they work out in our climate, how they like being transplanted, and generally just wanted to see what would survive my rookie skills!

This afternoon I made some starter pots out of newspaper and a pot press to start some seeds indoors until the chance of frost and snow are gone for sure!

I'm starting out with just some mint, dill, cilantro, swiss chard, zucchini, and lettuce.  I also have a young tomato plant I got from a local greenhouse to put in once it warms up a touch more (and once my husband builds me some planter boxes.)  I'm hoping to branch out into some carrots, beans, and maybe some strawberries depending on what the weather does in the next couple weeks.

After going to the gardening centre today,  I am also very excited to start my own compost.  As I was trying to pick soil to plant the seeds in, I was bombarded by at LEAST 20 different soil options, many "enriched" with some things I had never heard of, and didn't know anything about.  In the end I picked some normal old soil, and am hoping for the best.  I'm excited to next year hopefully have my own composted soil available to use so that I know EXACTLY what my soil is made of, what it's enriched with (kitchen scraps!) and where it came from.  Never did I think I would be so excited about dirt.

Any suggestions for other good "beginner" veggies to try?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

What does it all MEAN?

There are so many words that are tossed around in the eco-organic, nu-hippie world.  As I dive deeper into the exciting vernacular of this community, I realize that perhaps I don't know the definitions of some of these words like I thought I did.  My solution?  My glossary.

My glossary

Organic:   [awr-gan-ik
A natural way of producing foods using environmentally friendly methods.  These methods exclude the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and in the case of livestock, exclude the use of growth hormones and antibiotics.

Natural fiber:
[nach-er-uh l    fahy-ber]There are 3 classes of natural fibers: Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral.  Animal fibers include Yak, Wool, Silk, Spider silk (ew!), Alpaca etc.  Some examples of vegetable fibers are: Bamboo, Hemp, Jute, Flax and Cotton.  The one Mineral Fiber?  Asbestos.  (Ah!).  The natural fibers people talk about in the green community are generally those of vegetable origin, like Hemp, Bamboo, or Cotton.  Fibers themselves are described by Wikipedia as hair-like materials that are continuous filaments or are in discrete elongated pieces, similar to a piece of thread.  Hemp:[hemp]Hemp is a durable yet soft fiber that is made from plants in the Cannabis genus.  It is one of the fastest growing biomasses which is a reason why it is a popular choice for natural fiber use.  Pure hemp fabric has a similar texture to linen, and can be grown well organically without the use of pesticides.  This page is an excellent resource for information on hemp.    Bamboo:[bam-boo]Bamboo is a perennial evergreen that grows very quickly, depending on climate and soil conditions.  This makes it an eco-friendly crop because it is sustainable and can be harvested and replanted more often than other types of natural fibre crops.  Bamboo as a textile is very absorbent with natural antibiotic and antifungal properties because of a naturally occurring substance within called "kun".  Because of this substance, when not chemically processed, bamboo does not hold odour like other fabrics, making it a popular choice for clothing (especially yoga and workout gear).   Something many people may not know (as I didn't) is that bamboo is a very short fibre that is hard to process.  Bamboo can be processed in two ways.  It can be heavily pulped in a more natural process involving an enzyme soak, and the seemingly more popular route of processing, which uses chemicals like Sodium Hydroxide and Carbon Disulphide to break down the fibre to eventually turn it into a fabric.  In Canada and the United States, government organizations are cracking down on chemically processed bamboo being sold as "natural bamboo" and instead, are insisting that it be labelled as "Rayon" or "Rayon from Bamboo".   Bio-degradable:[bahy-oh-di-grey-duh-buhl]These are goods that are broken down with the use of microorganisms.  However, just because a label says that a product is bio-degradable doesn't mean its environmentally friendly.  Some things take centuries to break down, or break down into toxic chemicals , so be careful when buying bio-degradable items!

Volatile Organic CompoundsVolatile organic compounds are compounds contained in many household products like paint, lacquers, cleaning supplies, degreasers, etc.  These compounds emit gases which can cause a variety of health problems, and greatly decrease inner air quality when used and stored in your home.  The US EPA  states that levels of VOCs are often 2-5 times greater in your home than in the outside air.  Some VOCs are known human carcinogens (Benzene, Toluene), and some can cause toxicity to the liver, central nervous system, kidneys, etc.  So the long and short of it is, avoid VOCs!

[frey-gruh ns free]Fragrance free items are easy enough to define.  They lack fragrance.  The reason this is important is because of what "fragrance" really is.  Fragrances in the things we buy are (unless made from natural oils etc.) made of chemicals.  These chemicals are not regulated by any sort of governing body like the FDA and because of this, can be made out of petrochemicals, VOCs etc.  These fake and fruity smells in our cosmetics, air fresheners, candles, etc. can be causing us harm.  So we should really cut them out!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost!

In some spare time this weekend I googled my city's recycle program.  I knew that we had recently put in a new recycling centre, but was AMAZED to learn some of the details about it and wanted to share!

My municipality currently diverts approximately 60% of waste from the landfill, and the city has a goal of diverting 90% of waste by 2013, which is a VERY exciting stat.  Approximately 30% of households have a compost (I'll be adding to that stat this year!) and the city has a team of "Compost Doctors and Masters" who you can talk to about any composting questions or problems, and have a comprehensive site about beginning and maintaining a compost here .

A couple of other neat facts about the city:

-88% of the population voluntarily participates in the recycling program
-We have the largest composting facility in North America (as graded by size and volume)
-In 2012 we are opening the world’s first industrial scale municipal waste-to-biofuels facility which, as the website states, will convert 100,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste into 36 million litres of biofuels annually and help reduce Alberta’s carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint by six million tonnes over the next 25 years—the equivalent of removing 42,000 cars off the road every year.
-We have an E-waste recycle centre in which 30,000 tonnes/year of old computers, appliances, televisions etc. get recycled
-The city has a variety of reuse drop off stations where people can go to peruse items that can be reused.

This is just a handful of ways that my city is starting to make a difference, and learning all of this makes me very interested to see what comes next!  I am glad to see that such an effort is being made to reduce the footprint left by our population.

What sorts of facilities and projects does your municipality have in place?  Share below!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Cut the cleaner and use....saline?

A very interesting study has been underway at the University/hospital where I work.  Researchers are testing to compare the ability of different cleaners vs simple saline to eliminate bacteria (you can check out the full article here). While this was only a preliminary look at what I'm sure will become a more in depth study, the key point to take away from the study is fascinating! Researchers found that the chemical cleaners did NOT clean better than saline when petri dishes were physically wiped 3-5 times. This is a very exciting finding, in my opinion, because hopefully this can raise awareness that chemical cleaners and hand sanitizers etc. aren't REALLY necessary and can in some cases be replaced with good old water and elbow grease!

As a microbiology technologist, one of the first lessons we learn is: how to wash your hands. We use plain old soap in our lab, and the key is to RUB your hands vigorously for about 15 seconds (you can sing the first verse of "Row Row Row your boat" instead of counting if you like). Soap is just a wetting agent that helps lift bacteria off of surfaces; soap does not kill bacteria. So really, what you should take away from this little post is that it is the PHYSICAL action of rubbing that removes the vast majority of bacteria on your hands or vectors like counters, phones, door handles, etc.

I realize that you cannot use saline or water to clean EVERYTHING (I highly doubt we would ever, in the lab, switch out our 5000ppm bleach-like solution for saline), because other harmful things like viruses and spores etc. may remain.  However, in day to day life in our homes when we are washing hands, dishes, counters etc. put a little elbow grease behind your work, and decrease chemical use at the same time! Sounds like a good trade to me!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Some people call me Amy. You can call me Domestic Goddess.

It's true. I just bought my first sewing machine. I had been waiting to get some birthday money to embark on this next domestic adventure, and when some birthday cards arrived with the greenbacks, I was able to make it happen!

In my quest for "greenification" I figured that learning how to sew may be helpful so that I can eventually get to the point where I can make things for myself and others to use rather than buying them. Sewing is also very handy for "upcycling", which my sister and I have recently been plotting about.

Let me explain a little about my past as a sewing delinquent. In grade 8, in the city I grew up in, it was mandatory that every student take the combination class of cooking, sewing, and woodworking. As you can imagine, many of the girls excelled in sewing and cooking. Myself? Woodshop. Although I made a decent grade in Home Ec (cooking), my grade in sewing was less than par...(I failed). I never knew if the failing was due to the fact that I handed in the final project (a sweater) 2 weeks late, or if it was because in my harried attempt to hand in the sweater before the end of the year that I had serged a very large portion off of the bottom...This serging incident created a look which had my family referring to my project as "the shark bite sweater". I still have that terrible navy sweater buried in the depths of some drawer as a reminder of my youth (and how a serging machine can get out of control).

Anyways, enough nostalgia and on to the exciting part. Today I bought a sewing machine and some other sewing paraphernalia:

In an attempt to familiarize myself with the machine (and try and learn how to sew for REAL this time) I set about trying to make a simple project of a reusable cup cozy. It started off a little rocky...I'm not sure if you remember the first time you tried to thread a bobbin, needle, and the entire machine, but it took about an hour! Finally everything was threaded, the bobbin was wound, everything was in place and the real sewing began. Unfortunately, I was unaware that there are specific spools of thread for sewing machines (with large quantities of thread on them), and I only had on hand very small spools with about 5 metres of thread (see the spools in the photo above). The spool ran out VERY quickly, but I did get in a decent attempt at my product.

A little shaky, a bit of a poor cutting job, but all in all, I think this is the beginning of a great partnership between my new sewing machine and I. 

How are your sewing skills?  Got any tips for a beginner?   Hit up the comments below!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Happy Birthday to ME!

You know you are an adult when you start asking for reasonable gifts...last year was the just the beginning--I asked for (and received) a National Park Pass for all Canadian national parks.  And a food processor.  This year, my most sensible gifts ever:

An assortment of gardening and composting books to help me realize my gardening goals this year. And what else?

This year my gift came complete with composting classes at the local Composting Education Centre! The best part about it is that my parents want to get involved as well, and will be accompanying me to the class. Spreading the compost love even before starting!

I'm very excited to get started on this hobby and aspect of green-er living (as soon as the freak snowstorm disperses) and will keep you all updated on what I learn!

Are any of you gardeners out there? Any advice on composters, or favourite things to grow? Let me know by commenting!


I faced a tough internal battle tonight, but I think I came out on top with a green solution.

This was the dilemma my hometown is facing:

That's right....a freak snowstorm.

The spring temperatures plummeted back below zero, blowing my weekend gardening plans out of the water.  I used good old muscle power to clear the snow off mine, and the neighbours sidewalks (unfortunately they were covered again shortly thereafter), but came inside feeling quite chilled.  As an insensible young adult, I refused to put on gloves, proper coat, or boots and paid the price for my vanity. 

When I came inside I thought of my options...this is the point at which my old, uncaring self would have cranked the heat in the house and perhaps settled on a nice hot bath or shower as well, eating up a good 20 minutes under a stream of blazing hot water.  However with my new goals and passions in hand I opted for a more "eco-friendly" and perhaps more enjoyable option of warming myself up.  Enter slippers, housecoat, and hot chocolate spiked with whisky from a recent trip to Scotland.

While this may not seem like a tough choice to you, these are the little battles I plan on winning everyday to make a small yet important impact for our world.  And hey, a little whisky never hurt anyone!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Spring Cleaning

The birds are starting to chirp, the grass is starting to show, and I saw my first bug of this spring season.  As I sit here in my sunbeam, I am POSITIVE that spring is finally here!

Spring is a great time to startover.  For me, it's like a second chance for any New Year's resolutions I have already failed.  New season, new resolutions right?

Every spring, people get in the spring cleaning mode to clear out everything they've hoarded all winter;  every spring, the garbage in my neighbourhood piles high in the alleyway, waiting for the garbage trucks to come and take it to the dump.  This year, however, there's a new spring tradition about to come about.  What will happen to all my....

Food stuffs:  Instead of cleaning out the fridge and doing a mass annihilation of overdue, rotten, overripe items, I'm beginning a compost.

Old Clothes:  Instead of throwing out holey socks or old t-shirts, they're going to get recycled into rags for dusting, cleaning, and other household chores. 

Surplus reading material:  Those pesky magazines and National Geographics that I've read (and inherited with the purchase of our home) but have no more use for us are either going to be recycled, or donated to a nearby school to be used as collage material for the kids.

And last but not least....

Junk:  the amount of the "junk"that we have accumulated in our three years of marriage is astonishing, if not embarrassing.  This is in part due to the acquisition of the house we bought, which essentially came fully furnished thanks to the elderly people who were the previous owners.  They left us the majority of their possessions to help us fill the place up, but now that we've had the chance to accrue some of our own belongings, the result is a full basement.  The best way to avoid having this stuff go to the dump?  Spring means yard sales in these parts, so we're going to have our first ever yard sale.  This will hopefully send off some of our belongings to new homes, while the remaining items we will donate to the local goodwill charity so that they get a second use for people who need them!  Just because you're done with an item doesn't mean that it's lifetime has eclipsed!  Spread the love by spreading the goods!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Mexican Quinoa Bean Medley

Now, I was never much of a cook when I lived at home (who are we kidding, if my mother didn't make it, I didn't eat).  But now that I'm the lady in charge of my own house, the cooking that I so dreaded has actually become something I look forward to.  I'm not saying that I'm an amazing cook, but I can mix up a good dish or two...

This is one of those dishes my husband and I have come to really enjoy, and really just spawned from mixing bits of everything that was left in the fridge into one tasty creation.  Give it a try, I hope you enjoy! 

Mexican Quinoa Bean Medley
1 cup of organic quinoa
2 cups of organic chicken broth (low sodium)
(If you are watching your sodium intake, or are wanting a meatless dish, you can swap out the chicken broth for water)
~1 cup cooked black beans
~1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

For the salsa:
1 green chili, seeded
1 fistful of cilantro leaves
1 can (or equivalent of fresh) diced tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic
A squirt of lime juice

In a food processor combine all the ingredients for the salsa (measurements can be adjusted to fit individual preferences).  Pulse on low until you get a nice"chunky" mixture with a loose consistency.  Set this aside.

Bring quinoa and chicken broth to a boil, and decrease to medium heat for 15 min.  Then remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, fluff the quinoa with a fork, and mix in the black beans, chickpeas, and salsa, and toss so it is equally distributed.  Sometimes I leave it for a few minutes to soak up some of the extra fluid from the salsa, otherwise it is ready to serve!

Quinoa is high in fibre, antioxidants (like manganese and copper), protein (9 essential amino acids), and magnesium which is why this is an excellent dish for people with gluten allergies, or those who do Meatless Monday or those who just want a new healthy dish to try.

This is a lovely dish because it is made from many fresh ingredients, and therefore can be customized to your liking!


If you tried this recipe, what did you think?  Comment below!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

When your life keeps you busy....

Sometimes it's hard to keep up with working a full time job, paying the bills, shopping for groceries, doing yardwork, visiting with the family, etc. etc. etc. On TOP of all of this, we feel the pressure to fit in healthy meals made with produce and ingredients that are safe, healthy, and local. Having your own garden is one way to ease this burden since it requires you to run out to your backyard, rather than the grocery store or farmers market!  (although you could argue that the care of said garden adds to the "To Do" list as well!)  It's my hope that this backyard garden dream will become a reality this summer for my family and I, although as a "first timer" I worry that I may be too optimistic in my gardening abilities.

My other option to consider is a service that some in my circle of friends are a part of. What I'm talking about is an organic food delivery service, where a local business puts together a box full of locally produced, and organic products. The business in my bustling city uses certified organic products and usually leaves a label attached so you can see this for yourself. Ususally they provide you with an assortment of fruits and veggies, and you can choose the frequency of purchase (once a week, once every two weeks, etc.) This is a VERY convenient way to start incorporating MORE healthy items (that are both locally grown and organic) into your diet because they deliver this box right to your doorstep.

This is a service that is gaining popularity across North America. If you are Canadian, here is a list of some of the companies in Canada that provide this service.  If you are in the US or UK, I would advise you to google "organic delivery service" and the name of your city.

It's unfortunate that we live in a society where we are too busy to take care of ourselves as we should, but organic delivery services make that task MUCH easier!  Enjoy organic!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Something Fun...

I have discovered a wonderful webpage, called Practically Green.  This site is a great resource for many different ideas and suggestions on how to make your home healthier, as well as more eco friendly.  They have a plethora of great information on their blog  that is interesting AND useful.

One of the most interesting parts of the site though, is their quiz .  This is a quiz that helps you target areas of your life that could be made more healthy, eco friendly, and easier on the wallet.  ALL good things!

I am relieved to say that my quiz results aren't as embarassing as I thought they might be, but the site also provides ideas on ways to improve even the most green households.

Want a couple tips on ways to "greenify" your life, if you're like me?
-Get an energy audit for your home to see where you can improve
-Install a programmable thermostat so that your furnace will decrease the house temperature while you are snug in bed
-Plant a vegetable garden in your yard
-Use collected water from a rain barrel to water grass or flowers
-Install a low flow shower head

These were just a couple of the great ideas to help pare down extra energy and water usage.  But don't take my word for it, take the quiz yourself!  And then comment below with your "green status".

Another New Day, Another New Goal

I will admit that many of the clothes I currently wear are made in China.  Or India.  Or somewhere else that is not local, and perhaps made by someone who doesn't provide their employees with fair wages and treatment.  It wasn't until very recently, that I even knew much about different types of clothing fibers.  (Bamboo, Hemp, etc.)  My sister (you may know her from sites like Cloth Diaper Contests and Giveaways and Everything Cloth) began to educate me on the uses of these natural fibers in cloth diapers for babies, and I am now learning about the use of these fibers for clothing for everyone.

The main advantage to using organic natural fibers?  They are grown without the use of chemicals and pesticides which would eventually wind up being in your clothes, against the skin, and infiltrating the environment because of their use.

Some interesting facts I learned:

Bamboo, as a natural fiber, is eco-friendly because it can be replanted every year and can grow up to 75 feet in 45-60 days.  It also has excellent wicking properties and ability to draw moisture away from the skin which is why it is commonly used in workout gear (or cloth diapers).

Hemp, is one of the fastest growing biomasses known, and requires little to no pesticides or herbicides which makes it very eco-friendly as well.  Hemp is a very strong fiber that has been reported to be three times stronger than cotton, which makes its durability excellent!

As my education on organic and natural fiber clothing increases, I hope to share my new-found knowledge here!

Do you wear organic/natural fiber clothing?  Do you notice a difference?  Comment below!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

As a somewhat still newlywed couple, my husband and I experienced all the struggles of a new household.  Mortgage payments, cell phone bills, heating bills (in the land of the true, NORTH, strong and free the heating bills can really ding you in the winter!) and other things you never thought of budgeting for when you were a young, fun couple (life insurance, house insurance, insurance, insurance, insurance).

What I have learned is a way of making the old mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" save us some money, while helping to save items from the dump.  While we would all love to buy brand new "green" "eco-friendly" products, at some points in life this isn't always feasible.  Who says reusing someone else's cast-offs isn't saving that product from a likely end at the dump?

When summer rolls around and yard sales and garage sales are in full swing, it is amazing the kind of gems you can find.  If you took a stroll through my house, or my mother's house, you would find a treasure trove of interesting items.  Sometimes saved from a garage sale...sometimes even saved from a dumpster.  My siblings and I used to wander the alleys on garbage day, looking for treasures, while my parents would sometimes do the same.  On more than one occasion my parents would come home with some rickety piece of furniture for my father to refinish and reuse.  Some of my kitchen chairs ended up coming into being this way.  One of my prized possessions, my old, record playing radio cabinet which doubles as a side table was also saved from a garage sale, to the tune of $15.

Clothes are also something that can be easily "recycled and reused" by visiting your neighbourhood second hand store.  Many of these clothes are in great condition, and amongst the old lady pattern dresses sometimes you can snatch up a name brand piece for a fraction of the price!  All this while recycling something that someone else felt the need to get rid of.

Christmas is a time when there is a lot of waste.  Wasted money, and wasted paper.  Why not save boxes you accumulate through the year and decorate them, and reuse them as long as they hold up?  I had some leftover plaid material lying around this year, so I used it to wrap up gifts and tied it with twine!  All in all this was a cute little "wholesome" looking package that created no waste, as I took the fabric home with me after the unwrapping was all said and done.

All in all, we need to stop being in such a panic to consume the new, best thing, because there is a plethora of items surrounding us that need a home.  So today's message?  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Education is the Key!

Hello, green, savvy friends...

This has been a week of learning for me.  As the journey continues to increasing my environmental and health friendly knowledge, I have been discovering more and more startling information that I was oblivious to.  I met with a good friend last week and she sent me the links to two amazing websites that have opened my eyes to the amount of unnecessary, harmful ingredients in many products that I use from day to day.

The page I blogged about yesterday: has been a wealth of knowledge that I hope you all check out, as well as (the Environmental Working Group), which offers another seemingly never ending well of information like Health Tips, Environmental Health and Toxins, and Children's Health.

I have also found that twitter is an amazing resource and a great place to meet people who are also interested in green, wholesome living!  Check us out on twitter and join the community!  @WholesomeAbode

My goal for this week is to really focus and become a student of composting.  I am hoping to start a successful compost once the snow leaves (hopefully soon!) so would love any insight or tips!  You can comment below, or hit us up on the twitter!  @WholesomeAbode

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Do you know...

Do you know what you're wearing as makeup?  Washing your baby with?  Brushing your teeth with?  The fact of the matter is that, as consumers, very few of us know what we are putting into our bodies with many of the cosmetics/soaps, etc we use.  The scary part is that many of these products hide important information about the ingredients they use, and how they affect us.  is an amazing site that allows you to search any cosmetics/sunscreens/baby products that you use in your home, and find out what sort of impact it might be having on you or your child.  They give you an overall rating of how good or poor the product is, and then breaks it down into individual chemicals to show you which ingredients are the most hazardous, and why.  It is DEFINITELY worth checking out, and it will open your eyes.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Stop and enjoy the beauty that's around you. Be inspired by things around you-people, love, nature.