It all comes out in the wash…

Either I have become overly sensitive to smells, or products are now being formulated with discounted axe body spray. I still enjoy a tastefully worn perfume or cologne, but somehow I always manage to sit next to the guy on the bus who bathes in it. If Nutella can get sued for misleading American moms that it is ‘healthy,’ there is a case for misleading dudes that axe body spray ‘makes nice girls naughty.’  One morning, I realized the cause of my nose pollution was my freshly washed clothing.  It was a new brand, and did not smell anything like summer rain, mountain breeze, or whatever the box promised.  While the smell does fade, the potential phthalates (a compound that disrupts hormones) in these products may have more lasting effects.

Phthalates are in a lot of products (eg. air fresheners, anti-perspirants, hair products), and while I’m not about to live off the grid to avoid them entirely, buying unscented products may limit my exposure. I tried to find an unscented laundry soap on my next trip out, but the only ones I could find were of the ‘green’ variety and pretty pricey.  So once again, I learned to make my own. It’s cheap, easy, and a good way to take out some frustration.

What you need:

1 – Bar of Soap (unscented)
1 cup – Washing Soda (not baking soda!)
1 cup – Borax
Optional – a few drops of essential oils

What to do:

While watching tv, online video, or listening to podcast, grate the entire bar of soap.  I used a fine cheese grater, which disgusted the boy until I pointed out that after I was done grating the soap, I would wash it. With soap..

Stress relief

Next, stir in the washing soda and borax (and optional essential oil), mix well and store it in a container of sorts. Use about 2 TBSP for a regular load, and 2.5-3 TBSP for larger loads or if you sat next to the guy wearing axe.  It’s best to use warm water, or to let it dissolve in the water before you put your clothes in.  If it doesn’t fully dissolve, there will be some white soap left on the darks. Apparently you can make a liquid form just as easily, I just haven’t got that far yet.

Growing up my least favourite chore was hanging the laundry outside, and couldn’t wait to be able to use the dryer as I pleased. A combination of the city telling me I’m not allowed to have a clothes line, my building’s coin laundry dryer, and my mom living too far away, has led to me always hanging my stuff. The metal racks do the trick, but are awkward, bulky and take up space.  After replacing this IKEA curtain wire thing with a real curtain rod, I was going to toss it.  The boy, unable to throw anything away, installed it as a clothesline in the office that screws on and off. Genius. (Mom, I know I need clothes pegs!!) Leave the window open and my clothes actually smell mountain fresh.


Research and Gardening

The worst exam of my university career education is finally behind me. I passed the doctoral comprehensive exam. It took me a couple of weeks to recuperate, but I’m finally feeling more like a human again.  The marathon of studying filled my head with noise, leaving me wondering whether this is all worth it. I was told after-the-fact that this is quite normal. Now that I am back into my research, I have become re-inspired.  I am reminded why I signed up for this in the first place. The active learning is more my style. I have to see how and why things work to understand them and find solutions. Like the garden. I could read every book on gardening, but that doesn’t mean I would just know how to garden. I started small with things that are easy to grow. The more I understood about how different plants thrive, I gained confidence to expand and got creative.  On a small scale it’s not a big deal to experiment. If something dies, I’m not going to starve or lose much money. This way I’ll have made all of the mistakes by the time I’m ready for the big time.  When I have the time and energy to start a farm, or at least a homestead.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” -Janet K. Phillips

Broccoli's new home

While I was taking some much deserved time to recover, the plants were getting impatient and it was time to plant. The broccoli seedlings went right in the ground.  They need a lot of space, which I didn’t really anticipate.  I had 18 broccoli plants, but each plant likes 18 inches of personal space. 18 inches is more inches than you think. Now I know. We squeezed in 8 plants, hoping it’ll just work itself out… The rest go to lucky friends. We may also have to use them for back up, as the slugs have been dining on their leaves.  The boy built a slug trap he calls “The Slug Pub,” which will hopefully distract them from their dinner.  He cut a beer can in half, dug it in to ground level, and filled it with a crappy beer. (Not PBR unless you want a hipster passed out on your plants).  He made a roof by sticking a stick through a container lid .  Genius.  These are skills 4 years of engineering at Queen’s will get you…  No slugs yet, but it’s been less than 24 hours. (Update: The slugs officially prefer the ‘slug pub’ to my broccoli plants)

Happy Broccoli

'Slug Pub'

The peppers were also ready for more space, but unlike broccoli, peppers dislike cold. I have tried to grow store bought pepper plants twice now, with no luck. These guys already look bigger, so I’m hopeful but cautious.  We decided to pot them for now and put them in the greenhouse.  Peppers are high-maintenance, needing time to brace to live in the outside world.   I sat them on the patio for a few hours at a time when it was sunny out (called ‘hardening off’).  Then I just took them out of the dixie cups and put them in whatever pots I had lying around. The soil should be damp when you move from one pot to another. If its dry, it’ll crumble into a sandy/dusty mess and you’ll damage the roots.  If its wet, it’ll fall apart into a muddy mess and you’ll damage the roots.

Teenage Pepper 

Naked pepper

They were a bit upset by the move...

But were okay with it a few hours later.

Protective pest-management marigold border

We also planted seeds in the ground which are starting to pop up. Carrots, beets, swiss chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, basil, radish, and purslane.

The tomatoes also went in pots but are still inside. Im not sure where to put them yet as, like the broccoli, I have more plants then places to put them.  Im going to ask the boy to build a stand so we can grow some in a DIY upside-down hanging planter (topsy turvey) ones.  I had to repot them now though as they were over crowded and outgrew their dixie cup… Should have went with the big ones for these guys…

Too many tomato plants

Those are some nice... roots.


Tomato plants are quite dramatic..

Don't worry.. They always come back.

Now I just need it to hurry up and get warm! Then I can plant peas, beans, and cucumbers, and the onions should also be ready to go in soon. Then the real work begins.

Vancouver spring sunset

Moving up to the dixie cup (the small kind)

The worst of my comp exams are over.  I have been spending less time in coffee shops. The proposal is in the hands of the reviewers.  I’m no longer looking for creative ways to say however/therefore/while/although.  While I still have to defend the proposal, designing a presentation and preparing for questions is kinda fun.  Less fun than a night dancing with the ladies, but more fun than scientific writing.

Now that I am spending more time at home, I have been paying a lot more attention to the utopia that has sprung up in my living room.


Peppers and Broccoli

At 10 days old, these guys are growing up so fast…  When the plants have three leaves, they’re ready for big kid beds. Bigger pots, at least 3″ deep.  Unfortunately, not buying yogourt means I no longer have a constant supply of handy containers.  I had nothing at home, and my creative side was sulking from being ignored for a couple of weeks.  But, in 6 days the plants had 4th, 5th, and 6th leaves…  Out of desperation I bought dixie cups. The boy’s idea, well.. sort of. He said dixie cups, meaning beer cups, but who calls a red plastic beer cup a dixie cup? The 3 oz cups are the perfect size and 1/20 the price of peat pots. While day 22 might have been a bit late to move them, 4 days later they seem happy.




The set up

Meanwhile, the boy built a fence around the garden to keep out the critters. A few more sunny days, a little more dirt, and it’ll be ready to plant. Just in time for me to take a much deserved weekend off of reading/writing/thinking research.

Not a litter box.

No Twilight fans

Also, how awesome is garlic? I lucked out big time going to Kelowna to visit Kristi. Her mom gave me a bounty of freshly harvested garlic. I took out the biggest cloves and planted them in November. I only wish I planted more.

No pants, no problem.

I have been chained to my laptop for the last couple of weeks, writing until my eyes cross.  With 2 weeks to go before I submit my comp proposal, I have been working from home. In track pants. Which is awesome.  Gone are the undergrad days where a clean pair of track pants was my every-day-wear.  But dressing professionally helps to feel less like a student in my 9th year of post-secondary education.  Luckily though, a nice pair of skinny jeans will do on those impossible mornings.  Those mornings that start with a button falling off of dress pants, or finding a coffee stain after the shirt was just ironed.

Milton Waddams (Office Space) wants to get paid.

Unfortunately, my student reality is very apparent by the lack of paycheques…  Aside from jean shopping being the worst, my stipend isn’t exactly generous. But buying jeans second-hand is only for people with patience and lots of time.  I have neither. I am sure that out of the 2039 pairs of jeans at value village there is one pair that will fit. Though, when you narrow down by size, current-ish style, free of rhinestone/gemstones/sparkles/side zippers/dragons, you’ve got 3 in your cart.  One that bunches up in weird places and one with a DIY hem gone horribly wrong.  The last pair is perfect. Except for the giant flare at the bottom that had gone unnoticed on first inspection.  Can you see where this is going?  I am not trying to bring back, nor pull-off flared denim.  It is possible to make your own skinny jeans out of regular jeans. In an hour.   It was surprisingly easy, even though my past sewing-machine projects were pillow-type or curtain hems.  I watched a few youtube videos beforehand which I suggest, but here is what I came up with.

The first bell bottoms were worn by the US Navy.

First, take the jeans (washed and dried) you want to sew and turn them inside out.

The bottom jeans were wider than they appear.

Next, lie the jeans you like on top (also washed, dried and inside-out), line them up on the inside edges, and pin them in place.  Now, just trace them.  You can use fancy fabric pens, but I just used a sharpie. Its on the inside anyway. Don’t skip the pinning.  You will end up with 3 different black lines before you give in and pin them flat, then tracing a 4th more prominent black line…  Then unpin and remove the top jeans, leaving a few pins in the sewing jeans to keep the front and back together.  Then simply sew following the line you drew.  Search youtube to find the specifics of how to actually sew them.  Sew to the bottom and hem separately if needed.  Once they’re sewn, try them on.  If they fit, you can cut the excess denim, or not it if it doesn’t show. If they dont fit, you skipped the pinning.

Sometimes you have to concede that you just can't suck it in any further. The box is too small.

I don’t recommend using flared jeans, or jeans with a lot of stretch. The shape is off a bit so I had to sew up farther than I had anticipated, making them just a wee bit too skinny.  Good news for my pal Kristi, who gained a pair of jeans.

Look at that *expletive* hipster.

She works out...

You know, like ant farms…

With the exception of the freak hail and snow storms, the weather looks promising. This doesn’t make writing my comp proposal any easier, but it does help with the excitement of what’s to come when it’s all over.  Starting my dissertation and preparing 2 posters. Dancing, road trips, and getting back in the garden.  Although my seedlings think it is already spring.

Something that has been bothering me though has been what to do with all of my food scraps.  Vancouver does not yet have green collection, and the plentiful crows/skunks/squirrels/raccoons are not conducive to a regular compost.  So I did what many apartment dwellers have done, and looked into vermiculture. Yes. Thanks to a wonderful bestie, I now am the proud owner of a worm farm which will turn my organic waste into nutrient rich worm castings (poop) that plants love.

The set up is easy, and you can find the instructions here.  Basically it is a rubbermaid type container with holes drilled in the top and bottom for air flow and drainage.  The second bin acts as an insulator and with cans propped in the bottom catch excess moisture, as these worms can’t swim.  Fill the bin with shredded newspaper, cardboard and leaves, and you’ve got your very own worm habitat.

These worms are not your average worms held by the sticky fingers of the boy who liked you in 3rd grade chasing you around the school yard.  These worms, called red wigglers, are  composting machines.  In a city full of granola eating hippies, they weren’t that easy to find.  I did however find them amongst the unwanted furniture, stolen bicycles, and pope hats on craigslist.  As fate would have it, they were right down the street.

After moving them into their new home and giving them some dinner, all I have to do now is wait for them to do what they evolved to do. Complete the circle of life. The seedlings are obviously excited.  Speaking of which, led to an interesting conversation with my landlord after she came in to fix a leak and spotted the ‘grow op.’  Just flowers for the bees, onions and leaks. So far anyway… Broccoli and peppers start in March.

Onions and Leeks


Trading the winter blues for green

Whether it was the rain, writing and submitting another grant for funding, revising the never-ending manuscript, marking undergrad case studies, or the looming due date for my un-finished started proposal for the second part of my comp exam, I was feeling somewhat robotic and very uninspired. The semester has only just started… While it was tempting to just stay in bed, I started the week off with a delicious winter salad as recommended by Dr. Marciano.

Making friends with Brussel Sprouts

The week was looking up from there and was followed by the headline “Two out of three groundhogs have said that we’re due for an early spring!”  Hello sunshine!  The highlight of the week though was a documentary screening of ‘To make a farm.’  The turnout was very encouraging and proof that not everyone is apathetic about their food.  Watching these inexperienced farmers transform unturned soil into their own local food supply was the push I needed.  The push to put on some pants take a break from all the writing, get out in the sun, and get my hands dirty.  I started a brand new garden, only I didn’t have to turn any soil.

Trading lawn for herbs.

I used a method called ‘lasagna gardening‘ which involves no digging or ripping up sod.  I was lucky to have a friend teach me to do this as it was much easier than ripping up the grass (as Mease and I did the first time seen above).


I started by deciding how much bigger to make it while still keeping in mind I have other responsibilities.  Plants have a  passive aggressive approach to demanding attention.  Fraternizing with pests and weeds, growing long stems and flopping over, or dropping their leaves essentially translates to ‘PAY ATTENTION TO ME!”  So while it was tempting to cover the whole front lawn, I would really like to graduate one day…  I’m also not a master gardener.. yet…  Taking a conservative approach, I doubled my garden size from last year.

Adam Sandler would make a good lasagna garden.

The first step was to cover the grass in layers newspaper or cardboard. The newspaper acts as a barrier to kill the grass and weeds underneath, so make sure you cover all of the grass.  When you’re happy with the size and shape, soak it with the hose to help start the breakdown process. Now comes the lasagna part.

Cover the newspaper with a layer of peat moss, and then a green layer (leaves, grass cuttings, compost etc.), followed by a brown layer (soil, peat, manure), and repeat this process.

 I also added garden lime to the area because the mediums I was using were quite acidic (says so on the bag), and the west coast in general has more acidic soil (apparently).  Vegetable plants tend to prefer a higher (more basic) pH, so I will test my soil using a super sciency nerdy test kit closer to the growing season.


Basic Soil Test Kit

Just kidding.  The soil test kit I got is just a container that you stick some dirt into, add a colour coded capsule, shake it and match the colour of the water to the chart on the container.  You dont have to do this part, (I haven’t till now), but the kit also tells you the potassium and calcium levels of the soil which is kind of awesome.  It also helps make your garden more productive, which is what you want if you’re trying to grow food for yourself.

The last step is to go into the alley to find some free wood to keep the soil in.  It’s not very pretty yet, but for now it does the trick. I’ll keep adding to the layers to the garden until the weather cooperates enough to put seeds and plants in the soil.

DIY plants

But wait! There’s more!!  I also decided that I was going to grow plants from non-gmo (!) seeds, and some of them need to be started inside.  The actual plant light systems are quite expensive, but not when you attach a $25 light to a coffee table turned entertainment unit that you found in an alley. I have only started onions, leeks and flowers so far, and once they sprout I’ll put them up closer to the light.  Hurray for self-sufficiency… well it’s a start… Until I figure out how to gentically modify onions to produce all lifes necessities!  But until then, it’s back to writing…

I Dairy You to try this…

You know what kinds of foods are made with dairy?  The BEST kinds.  Next to cheese, which I may or may not treat more like a condiment, yogourt is my favourite kind.  Lately, the yogourt aisle has been giving me that same overwhelmed feeling of when I’m in the automotive department trying to figure out what type of engine oil I need..  In the later case I usually just pick one that’s on sale.  With yogourt, I have specific criteria.  I want 3 ingredients (Milk, skim milk powder and bacterial culture).  That’s it.  No flavours, no sweeteners, no modified ingredients, and none of this no or low-fat business.  Just give me the good stuff.  For some reason, the good stuff is almost non-existent and almost never on sale.  At $4 / tub, and 2 yogourt lovers in the house, this puts a serious dent in my grocery budget.

As a kid, my mom always made yogourt, which is why I prefer plain, but it seemed like more work than what it was worth.  I also didn’t have a yogourt maker.  I finally decided that if I was going to learn to become more self-reliant, this is a skill I needed to learn.  So naturally I asked google. Turns out, you can make it in a crock pot!  With help from a super blog post, I was on my way to making my very own good stuff. It was really easy.  No stove top cooking or constant stirring required.  So here it is.  My very first attempt.

What you need:

1- Crockpot
8 cups – whole milk
1/2 cup – store-bought plain yogourt (the good stuff) (in the future you can save 1/2 cup from your batch) You can also use a yogourt starter, but this is easier)
2-3 TBSP – skim milk powder (This was my mom’s suggestion to give a thicker yogourt)
1- towel or blanket
Jam, cinnamon, granola, maple syrup, brown sugar, or whatever else you like to put in your yogourt.

Set your crockpot to low, and then pour in the milk.  Put on the lid and let it sit for 2 1/2 hours on low.

After 2 1/2 hours, turn off and unplug the crockpot, and leave it for another 3 hours. (Pretty minimal effort so far…)

This next part takes some more effort (5 minutes worth)….  After 3 hours are up, take out 1/4 of the milk and stir in the yogourt and skim milk powder.  Once it’s mixed (nobody likes lumpy yogurt) pour it back into the crockpot with the remaining milk, and give it a couple more stirs to make sure it’s combined.  Then, wrap the still unplugged crockpot in a towel.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, just make sure the top and all the sides are covered and insulated.  Now leave it for 8-10 hours.  A good idea is to start making this 5.5ish hours before bed.

 In the morning, I woke up to this!  It WORKED!  It thickened and everything.  It is not as thick as Balkan or Greek yogourt, but I’m sure if you ask google nicely it will tell you how to do that.  Either more skim milk powder or straining it with cheese cloth I would imagine.

All I had to do now is pour it into jars, and stick it in the fridge and wait for it to cool. It’s edible warm, but probably gross.

The good stuff

Yeah… It was yum.  Not too sour, thin but not runny consistency… The real deal.  The good stuff.  The boy also approved (not an easy feat), but threw in a bit of maple syrup in his, just because he’s wild like that.

So there you have it.  Less than 10 minutes of actual work, 15 if you count making the granola. 2 big jars for the price of 1/2 gallon of milk, and I’ll never need to read a yogourt label again.