Friday, December 31, 2010

Recycle & 'Regift' the Christmas Detritus!

I really like the city council at the moment. I'm rather enjoying the new bike lanes and how they are landscaped, I love being a part of the GreenStreets program, and I like the chickens-in-your-backyard legislation.

I particularly approve of Metro Vancouver's amusing ad campaigns on reducing holiday waste (pre-Christmas) and their inventive initiatives post-Christmas, like this: Metro Vancouver Recycles. Yes, it's a mother-lode of a resource for finding where you can dispose of this, that and the other, but also where you can donate the unwanted items that found their way into your apartment over the holidays! Metro Vancouver Recycles links to Thrift Stores, recycling depots, and, joy of joys, here I have *finally* found a place to get rid of used batteries, including the rechargeable ones from a rather useless battery-powered toothbrush (another ghost of Christmas past, I should note!).

If you live in Belcarra, Anmore, Pitt Meadows, Tsawwassen, even Lions Bay and Bowen Island, and every larger district inbetween, check out Metro Vancouver Recycles and let your friends and neighbours know about this fantastic resource! Well done, Gregor Robertson et al!

And if you're not from this neck of the woods, I have a few generic suggestions for you:

I can't recall if it was Rich or Wendy or neither of them, but a coworker of mine came up with the terrific idea of advertising "regifting" of unwanted items at work, particularly unopened bottles of alcohol not enjoyed by the original recipient (i.e. a cheap red if you only drink white; tequila when the very sight of it makes your stomach turn, etc.). Regifted items can then be auctioned or raffled off, the proceeds of which going to charity (your local Food Bank will appreciate this, as will other organizations). A small collection of various wines is sure to pull in a fair bit of moula for your worthy cause.

Using up Christmas leftovers is also a great way to curb waste (that's a rather silly saying, isn't it? Because we want to avoid waste on the curbside! Ah well). Here's a few links on what one can do with leftover turkey:

Of the using-up-leftovers sites, I am impressed by this one - Love Food, Hate Waste. Link to their Christmas dinner leftover uses here: 

A very Happy New Year's to all! Bring in 2011 the right way - recycle well and reuse everything! No need to mention 'reduce' - I'm sure the post-Christmas credit crunch will nicely curb our shopping & spending habits for a time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Avalon Organics Shampoo & Conditioner (on sale!)

On sale at Capers (4th and Vine) until January 1st, Avalon Organics Lavender Shampoo and Conditioner two-pack is retailing for $8.99 - half off!

A company recommended by The David Suzuki Foundation's "Dirty Dozen" (new: pocket guide link here) as frequently having products that are free of the 'dirty dozen' ingredients, Avalon Organics has shampoo and conditioners in several different scents (Lemon, Rosemary, Peppermint to name a few). I nearly bought the Rosemary, but then saw the sale and went for the Lavender two-pack.

To read more about the 'Dirty Dozen' lists, see my earlier post - David's Dirty Dozen.

Relax, Honey - It's the Holidays

One of the most popular gifts in our family this year was Meeru Dhalwala & Vikram Vij's latest cookbook, "VIJ'S AT HOME - RELAX, HONEY The warmth & ease of Indian cooking".

A truly fantastic cookbook!
It was so popular that I both gave and received a copy of the cookbook this Christmas (which is fantastic, because I was really tempted to test out some of the recipes before wrapping but abstained). I even had the opportunity to meet and chat with Vij himself when I had a copy of the book signed for my parents.

I tried out three of the recipes tonight for dinner, which was a bit of a mistake - we ended up stuffing ourselves worse tonight than at either of the two family Christmas dinners this year! All three dishes were absolutely amazing! And I made them, me. That's a great cookbook.

Rice Pilaf with Cashews, Cranberries and Saffron was so, so tasty (and easy - the directions were complete and unambiguous).

I also made Sauteed Spinach and Tomatoes (a quick version of Saag Paneer), which would have been perfect had I not attempted to substitute bocconcini cheese for paneer . . . it melted. But apart from the stringy cheese, it was delicious. And the best part of all is that you can make it with canned diced tomatoes and frozen spinach, which gives me a great option on nights when I would usually resort to the frozen pizza.

Prawns in Pomegranate Curry was the main course and although I made enough for dinner tomorrow, it was consumed by my dear fiancee who described it as "Awesome - really, REALLY good!". I liked how the recipe included this:

If you have any leftover juice, add shots of vodka and ice to it and drink as an aperitif to set a festive mood for dinner.

Thank you Meeru & Vij! It's honestly the first time in my life that I've been able to cook restaurant-tasty Indian food at home (I butcher Aloo Gobi. I try, but I always end up with soggy, ill-cooked cauliflowers and inconsistently cooked potatoes in a bizarre melange of various spices). I highly recommend this cookbook to anyone who loves Indian food even half as much as I do - good way to spend a gift certificate.

Update: February 14th (Valentine's Day)

Having a lovely dinner cooked for you at home with wine and candlelight is one of the best things going (and certainly a romantic Valentine's gesture).

Recipes taste better when made for you with love. These don't need 'love'!

Mix Vij in, and *WOW* - I had to blog about it!

"Green Beans, Potatoes & Spinach" (pg. 86). There were seconds, but he ate them!
Sablefish (which is on the Green list of most sustainable seafood lists here on the West Coast of North America) is delicious, right up there with Arctic Char in my favourite fish list!

Steamed-to-perfection spiced Sablefish (pg. 139). Awesome!!!
I learned my lesson from last time and took photos before devouring dinner! It was just awesome. I put on some Ravi Shankar (playing ragas) and lit some candles . . . absolute perfection.

I also received a Canadian Living "tested 'til perfect" Vegetarian cookbook - stay tuned for an upcoming review!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last-Minute Gifts: Christmas Gift Summary from Green, Broke & Living in Kits


Are you ready? Like, REALLY ready? The holiday season is in full swing already, and between all of the Christmas parties (work, your partner's work, your friends, your family, your neighbours, your church or team or book club) you're going to find time to get 'er done?

I think it might be time to reassess!

Scroll all the way to the bottom for the "Christmas Dinner in a Box" joke gift!

So here we go, the "It's the last minute and I'm scrambling - HELP!" list!

From the post "Handmade Christmas? Start planning NOW!":
  • Home Baked Goodies: pound cake in a loaf tin, cookies in a pretty glass jar
  • Secret Family Recipe Cards/Books and a copy of your favourite go-to recipe book (new or used, but you might be up against it if you're wanting to buy online) 
From the posts  "Christmas Gifts that Actually Matter (from $1 to $50)" and "Intangible Charity Gifts - More Choices":
  • Virtually ANY of these you still have time for! If they can't guarantee delivery of a card to pass on to your recipient, many of these organizations offer e-cards. If that's not going to cut it for you, try the whole "right-click" over the image, "copy" and then "paste" into a Powerpoint slide. You can resize and move the image around, add text and clip art (or more "right-clicked & copied" images from the website or elsewhere) and make your own flyer or card to present to your loved one. The added bonus here is that you have unlimited creative control in terms of design and text!
  • Please, please look through these catalogues: I can guarantee that there's a 'gift' out there that is just perfect for someone on your list!

  • Good last minute ideas are: any of the local charity gifts, homemade hot chocolate/hot chai kit, herb seeds and a pot with soil to grow them in, raw materials for learning to knit, crochet or for sketching (needles, hooks and yarn or sketchbook and pencils/pencil crayons), Aquabus tickets, and you could always visit the Ten Thousand Villages store.
  • Food, coffee and wine. Edibles are where it's at! Buy the good stuff or the unusual stuff for a real treat. Make your own little hampers or baskets with the favourite foods of your recipient. Need more instruction than this? How about these small combinations to start you off:
A Christmas Dinner to go! Perfect for your goofy friend who cannot or will not cook, or for friends in rez (residence on campus) who can't make it home to enjoy a proper feast with the family. If it's for an undergrad, better include some beer.
If all else fails, pick up a wreath or a HUGE bunch of flowers or buy a poinsettia or amarylis plant and a bottle of wine. You can never go wrong with flowers and wine.

Late to press: I just found the most interesting foodstuff for a Vegetarian Christmas food hamper at T&T supermarkets - "Taisun Vegetarian Mushroom Jerky"! The link is to the weekly flyer, so apologies if it's changed by the time you read this ($2.39 instead of $3.59). I've also just discovered the existence of "Tofurky Jurky". . . . sick. I might be vegetarian, but I draw the line at jerky. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Workouts You Can Do at Home for Free

What a way to wake up in the morning - gazing lovingly at my gleaming substitute Christmas tree while sipping a cup of tea (which I didn't make, which makes it all the nicer!) and watching the news....

Only the news has to do with EXERCISE during the holidays, something that even I feel is a little off the mark. It's important to keep up with regular workouts, but mixing something in specifically for Christmastime - 'tisn't the season for that if you ask me!
from - Libby's shiny white Saucony's and a purple washcloth

But I have been inspired! Libby Norris was doing a spot on CTV* news this morning (*I listen to CBC news, then I turn on the TV - you can't get the real news off other channels!). She's a fitness guru ('master trainer') with a very inspiring website, particularly an article on "Fitness Under $20", which I think could better be named, "Free Fitness, Provided you have Access to Brooms, Washcloths, Paper Plates and Other Household Items". Her title is punchier, obviously. Other "Frugal Fitness Tips" from Libby on CTV's website, here.

Practically all the exercise equipment you need, according to

Watching her do lunges and push-ups with washcloths on a wood floor did actually encourage me - they're many of the same ab and core exercises I get at my local YMCA's Kick and Abs class (please note: the Robert Lee YMCA website appears to be having troubles this morning!).

I'd like to encourage you to try some of the exercises Libby describes while doing your holiday baking or at the end of a day of shopping; they only take a few minutes and can really help your poor old body keep up in the holiday season.

And if you're like me (i.e. you require a little encouragement to actually DO the exercises), consider signing up NOW at your local rec centre for a fitness pass or classes (and make sure you book a usually free weight room consult with a trainer! It's so helpful to receive recommended exercises). During the stress of the holidays, nevermind the baked goods, it would honestly do you wonders to struggle through and survive a challenging cardio class. There's really nothing like grunting and sweating your way through a tiring, loathsome aerobics or strength training class (or even a spin class or pilates or yoga) to help bust day-to-day stress.

Go forth and sweat! It's good for your complexion (and a million more important things, but who doesn't like clear, glowing skin looking back at you in the mirror?).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Substitute Christmas Trees

There are many reasons why a broke, apartment dweller would skip the whole Christmas tree thing altogether - travel plans, fire insurance, building or city by-laws prohibiting trees, cost, and so on. Some will argue that a 'lovely plastic' tree (yuck) will pack up neatly into a box for storage, but I ask you - have you really got excess storage space? And do you want to commit to unpacking the same old tree for decades (which you should if you buy it - it's not like it'll decompose in the dump)? No, I don't think so either.

For two years in a row, I've gone without a tree at Christmas. My ideal tree is a living one, rootball and all, that can be gifted to the birds in the backyard adorned with then-stale cookies and popcorn strings. Alas, no backyard and several of the above restrictions apply.

First few stars and masking tape frame
Meet 2010's version of the Christmas tree in the Green, Broke & Living in Kits apartment! Inspired by today's sermon at Tenth Church, this 2-dimensional tree is made up of stars (some good, some bad) all leading to the big star at the top. I must admit that only a few of the stars represent people and experiences, but if you were to build your own, you might consider writing on each star the name of a loved one (friends and family) that you remember at Christmastime.

Mostly done... note the masking tape frame being eaten away

Last year's was a little less 2-dimensional and was accomplished by fluting sheets of green construction paper and pinning them to the wall. It also left a lot of holes in the wall.

Last year's tree, sans ornaments. Fluted construction paper and thumb tacks. Not the best place to put it, in retrospect. Avoid those baseboard heaters and radiators!

But this year, the tree is made of recycled/reused/repurposed materials: last year's Christmas cards, well-reused gift bags in need of retirement, scraps of construction paper, the interesting patten on the inside of envelopes meant to deliver cheques, wrapping paper scraps, book pages (leftovers from a past craft), origami paper, and even the box that stored last year's cards was used.

The tree, effectively, was free. The price is right!

Want to do it yourself? It's easy!

- papers, card stock, tags, bags, paper scraps of all sorts (postcards and foils from candy wrappers work, too!)
- masking tape
- a cookie cutter (mine was a star-shape)
- pencil
- scissors
- glue and glitter (optional - good to utilize if you have only flat, non-reflective papers)

How to do it:
Make an acute angle (i.e. the outline of a tree) with two long strips of masking tape. Stick gently to the wall when you've got the shape you like.
Trace and cut-out your stars.
Fold a loop of masking tape to affix the stars to the wall (top-down is how I did it). Make sure you've shuffled the cut stars well, and when you stick them to the wall, attempt to achieve balance in your design - keep the same coloured stars scattered evenly across the the tree shape. It's easy to move the stars in most cases if you're gentle and get your finger under the tape before lifting the star.
As you fill in the tree, make sure that the stars along the side align right against the masking tape 'frame'. As the stars are placed along this edge, you can peel back the masking tape that forms the frame from the areas where the stars have been placed. Use this tape to make loops for the backs of other stars!
If you're going to write names on the stars (or use glitter and glue) make sure you do this after cutting out the shape but before applying the loop of tape to the backside.

Placement of your tree:
A bare wall is an ideal place, but make sure it's not above a heater where it could pose a fire hazard!
Another great place is a door - your front door, the bathroom door, any flat door that isn't exposed to the outdoors (the dampness will not suit this activity).

That's it! Hope this inspires you to make your own non-traditional Christmas tree in your apartment.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quirks & Quarks and the Lost World of Radio

Ah, the CBC: providers of radio, television, news, my internet homepage, and most importantly, HNIC.

(HNIC = Hockey Night in Canada, for readers from outside Canada). Although stereotypes aren't nice, it's true that very nearly all Canadians are nuts for hockey. It wasn't always an official national sport, but we complained enough to have it join lacrosse as one of two official national sports. Lacrosse is a lot like hockey without ice, in fact. And it's even rougher, if you can believe it. Cross-checking is legal - ouch! The hockey lust runs deep in our collective culture - we sing songs about it (both seriously and in self-deprecation), we can't help joining games of pick-up road or pond hockey (usually road hockey out here on the South Coast - not a lot of deep freezing going on in Vancouver - Link here to a video during the Winter Olympics where we had accidental daytime highs of near 20 C or 68 F!), and we just stop short of worshipping hockey heroes as demi-gods. . . just.

I suppose I don't need to give any more examples of how hockey is important to Canadians - I've just included an entire unrelated paragraph on the subject when I meant to be talking radio!

Get on the Grados and tune in to CBC Radio (t-shirt optional)

Radio is definitely living on the periphery of modern communication these days, and I feel that gives it a cool, counter-culture status. I enjoy listening to it knowing millions of others are sifting through the new pop-up advertisements on YouTube and other websites. No, I really enjoy listening to non-commercial, government-funded programming on the CBC. I maintain that it's better for your brain, too (and certainly easier on the eyes!). I rather wish CBC television could do away with the ads, too.

CBC Radio One (English language - we have it in French, too!) has many programmes that are well worth tuning in for (DNTO is one, and so is The Early Edition and The Current in the mornings). There are other channels, too: CBC Radio 2 is mostly classical music and Radio 3 is independent Canadian music. (frequency guides here)

But my best-loved and most recommended programme of all is on Radio One, hosted by Bob McDonald on Saturday daytimes, repeating on Monday nights. It's the one and only "Quirks & Quarks", the last refuge of the closet scientific-infophile on the airwaves.

Screenshot: Quirks & Quarks homepage (courtesy

November 13th's show was Quirks & Quark's 35th Anniversary Special. Way back in the day, David Suzuki hosted Quirks & Quarks (if you don't know who David Suzuki is, you're probably not Canadian and not into environmentalism! Check out the David Suzuki Foundation here, and his profile on Wikipedia here). Here's a quote from the Quirks & Quarks website on the 35th Anniversary show:
It's been 35 years since Quirks & Quarks debuted on CBC Radio (with host David Suzuki). Back then, there were no cell phones or personal computers, no knowledge of the human genome, dark matter, or MRI. And Pluto was still a planet!  So we're going to take you back to 1975, and look at how much science has changed since we first went on the air. We've assembled a panel of 10 Canadian scientists, and asked each of them to tell us about the most significant change, development or discovery that has happened in their field of science since 1975. Recorded before a live audience at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.
Yes, when I heard that you could be in the audience for the taping of the 35th Anniversary show, I pulled out the calendar and started to shout to my fiancee that we'd be going! And then I noticed it was in Toronto (c'mon, really?!). Lucky Leafs fans.... I guess they need some breaks after all (that's hockey trash talk, if you didn't realise it)!

Quirks & Quarks runs for an hour, and generally has about 6 segments with interviews from either the scientist who made the discovery or conducted the research, or an expert explaining this complicated phenomenon for the layman (you don't need to be any good at math or physics to get this stuff - totally accessible to all!). They have Fact-or-Fiction to address common (or uncommon) misconceptions about scientific matters, comedic discoveries, and some really wild astrophysics findings that they dumb down so biologists like me can appreciate them.

Have a look at the past episode guide here - I'll bet you you'll see something that catches your imagination. You can listen to them online over your computer from anywhere in the world via streaming audio or by podcast. For example, a Fact-or-Fiction on redheads; how whale poo (which stinks like nothing else) feeds the oceans; why penguins wear 'tuxedos'; how sharks can smell 'in stereo', and so much more! Dark matter, dinosaurs, ancient human artifacts, the plausibility of living on the moon, why the honeybees are dying, factual information on climate change, how to win at game shows (the famous Monty Hall problem), you name it!

Two favourite books of mine either featured or referenced on Quirks & Quarks

I've even bought a book featured on Quirks & Quarks - The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely. Not my usual genre of literature, but I really enjoy it (nearly done)! It's a collection of thoughts on humans (and other animals) and our less-than-logical behaviour that is filled with interesting behavioural experiments done on humans. Have you had no success at all with on-line dating? Want to know why? It's not you, it's the interface - it's just not how we humans find mates naturally, so we end up meeting all sorts of people based on commonalities that although probably don't hinder a relationship, certainly won't jumpstart one! Also, it is true that men will routinely play 'out of their league', whereas women will, at least superficially, settle for less. (That's not just true of internet dating, but in real life too. Bet you'd figured that one out on your own already!). I'll let you read Dan Ariely's book for the whole story (it's a good one!) - it might even make you feel better! (Link to his website here).

Quirks & Quarks is seriously one of the best diversions out there, and it will give you all sorts of things to think about and talk about without stretching the sinews of your mind too far. The science is 'dumbed down' so as to be accessible to anyone. To my crochet and knitting friends from Ravelry: why not listen to an episode on your next knit/crochet session? Easier than watching TV and much more interesting (I promise!).

Listen to this week's Quirks & Quarks here, and enjoy relaxing and feeding your mind the old fashioned radio-way!

Tonight's show: a real-life invisibility cloak like Harry Potter's (or in the Lord of the Rings or even covering starships like Romulan Warbirds in Star Trek) - no really, Physicists can almost do it! Or maybe they already can?! (If yes, forgive me if I avoid using the women's washroom in the Physics and Math buildings for the remainder of my life..). Looking forward to listening to this episode (which also includes a fact-or-fiction on 'frozen tears'! No Canadians know this for sure 'cause there's no crying in outdoor hockey...).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Keeping Warm this Winter

 Alright, I'll freely admit that I'm not made of the same stuff as the hardy Eastern* Canadians (*Eastern meaning everything East of Kamloops...!). When the temperature drops to below -5 C and the windchill approaches -20 C, I'm not a happy camper.

I might just be a wussy, lotuslander used to the balmy winters and mild summers of coastal British Columbia, but I have a theory (or two) as to why we on the South Coast are so intolerant of the bitter cold. The first theory is weather-proofing of our buildings (or more accurately, the complete LACK of weather-proofing). When there's a wind storm, my curtains billow wildly despite a locked sliding patio door (the gap's so big you could slip things through it!). When there's a heat wave, any candles (and sometimes soap) will melt in my apartment. Can you see where this is leading?

 Whoever built this apartment building that I currently reside in clearly did not see any merit in 'insulation'. Right now, in this -8 C weather, my floors (above the car-park) are so cold that even rubber-soled boots provide little protection from the bite. If you'll recall from my previous post on energy-efficient housing, I have two cracked single-paned windows (one of which is actually a hole - I can fit a finger through it!).

The second theory on why Vancouverites whine in cold weather is that it's a wet cold and not a dry cold. There is a difference, let me tell you! You try living through weeks of 1 to 2 C sleet and tell me you feel warmer than you do in a dry -10 C!

Regardless, I'd like to think that after a year and a half of living here I've come up with some great tips on how to stay warm in a draughty, poorly-insulated slum-style apartment during the few cold weeks we have in Vancouver (though I hear that the forecast is for a very cold winter this year).

Crochet a blanket - it'll keep your lap warm while you work, too!
Hot Water Bottle and Lots of Blankets: This will make it more difficult to get out of bed in the morning, but it's a fantastic way to pre-warm a very cold bed, especially when you place it at the foot of the bed (under the covers). Polar fleece (can buy recycled-plastic polar fleece!) is an affordable fabric that comes in many colours and patterns - buy a little and sew yourself a simple hot water bottle cover. With hot tap water to fill and a polar fleece cover, that water bottle will stay warm right into the morning! The other bonus of the bottle cover is the ability to place it directly on or under your feet - that rubber can be uncomfortably hot! Unlike the architect/builders of my building, I do understand the importance of insulation. Add a few blankets (they don't have to be thick!) to trap in the warm air. In the morning, reuse the now slightly warmish water to water houseplants or to set out for the birds in a shallow dish (see last tip).

My Mom made this cover to match my bedding. Awwww.
Draught Dodgers/"Draft Stoppers": I mentioned these handy little inventions in the energy-efficient apartment posting as well, but in weather like this, these things really pull their weight! At the moment, I'm using a spare mattress to act as a giant draught stopper - it's wedged into the door frame of the aforementioned gappy sliding door. It's an eyesore, but it's helping! In the same way, there are products that work to help mediate the downsides of single-paned windows as well though these are definitely things you need to seek permission from the landlord before installing. In contrast, the stuffed-snakey wedged under the door doesn't require any approval.

'Well-loved' slippers with proper soles - a must for frigid apartment floors
Soup, tea and coffee: Never underestimate the psychological and physiological value of hot liquids this time of year! Holding a mug of anything hot will warm your hands (and through circulation, the blood returning to your heart). Now obviously the majority of these tips won't be overly energy-efficient (I'm not going to beat the energy conservation drum in this post - see my earlier one for that aspect!), and please remember that your electric stove-top with it's coiled metal resistors as elements are seriously energy inefficient! Use only the one element to cut down on energy wasted in the 'warming up' phase. If you're concerned about your energy bill, try using the microwave - they waste a lot less energy. Making soup from scratch on the stovetop is also a great thing to do - by standing beside the heated element, you'll be directly absorbing some of that lost heat! And break out the old fashioned thermos! It's the original "reusable coffee cup" after all! Another great example of how insulation is really the key to keeping warm!

Part of my extensive tea selection that's built up over the years.
Hot baths: Again, not energy-efficient (or water-consumption prudent!), but skipping the early morning shower in favour of an evening bath is my favourite cold weather cheat. Maybe I am back to thumping the energy-conservation method, because I'm about to point out that if you shower in the morning when it's sub-zero outside, you're very likely to blow-dry your hair before stepping outside (unless you dig that literal 'frosted' look). Also, if everyone else in your building is showering at the same time, that water heater is working overtime! So skip the morning shower (do the wash-cloth thing if you have to) and spend all day looking forward to that apres-dinner soak. Bring in a book and stay in until the water is tepid. Nothing will bring up your core temperature better (except maybe exercise.... see next point). Dry off quickly, jump into warm pyjamas, and slip into your hot-water-bottled bed!

Exercise: Well, why not, right?! You need it anyway! What's preferrable: waiting at the bus stop for 20 minutes, trying to jump up and down to stay warm while remaining inconspicuous, losing the feeling in your toes, having your runny nose begin to freeze, or walking briskly home for 30 to 40 minutes? I choose the walk every time! I can usually get past the halfway mark before a bus passes me (immense psychological value in that!) and I'm certainly warm by that point, too. When I walk into my frigid apartment, I actually feel a little on the hot side and often enjoy (very temporarily!) the coolness of the parquet floor! My heart's pumping well, my blood is warm as are my muscles. I've also helped to burn off the Christmas-season cookies and treats that sneak their way inperceptibly into my diet this time of year! Another added bonus: the sidewalks are a little less crowded (though I might note that the bike lanes and the pedestrian traffic doesn't dip nearly as much as the car-junkies proclaim as they try to argue against the implementation of bike lanes. You can't see much zipping past in a single-occupant vehicle, you fat oafs!). Get a little exercise and enjoy the crisp air - so long as you're dressed appropriately (gloves and scarves!), you might consider making it a regular occurrence! Now is also a great time to sign up for an indoor fitness class (think: holiday foods!), and there's no shortage of options: hot yoga (or regular yoga, which is what I prefer! Link here to my friend Sarah Jamieson's yoga page), pilates, kickboxing, aerobics and step-classes, indoor bootcamps, weight training, even something like a circuit class at CURVES - all of these things will keep you warm, fit and trim throughout the holiday season! For $5.10 (adult) you can attend a public skate at the Kitsilano Community Centre ice rink (12th & Larch), or go on Wednesday afternoon and attend the Loonie/Toonie skate! Skating is wonderful exercise and a quintessential Canadian winter activity. Or for free, you can go out and play in the snow just like the under 12 year olds...! I'm sure throwing a snowball or two on top of shovelling the drive will leave you huffing and puffing in no time.

Watching children (and dogs!) play in the snow is a great way to enjoy the 'inclement' weather
Space heaters: Alright, this could be an entire post of it's own! Some are dangerous (carbon monoxide from oil-filled electric radiators, fire-risk for virtually ALL models of heaters!), and all carry some risk and require special care (keep them well away from furniture! Polyester couch covers burst into flames really, really easily! Remember the 'over-heating laptop fires' - they were left unvented on these sofas and beds!). I'm sure there are energy-efficient ones out there, but not any I could afford. We bought a small, cheap heater with safety features (very important! Automatic safety shut-off, for example) and which isn't left running overnight and importantly doesn't run from an extension cord. Always read the instructions for these things! Use the heater to heat the room you're in and be sure to unplug it when not in use. In fact, unplug EVERYTHING that isn't in use - you'll save a lot on your energy bills! Space heaters need to be used sparingly and cautiously. Don't leave them unattended - it's better to have a cool room when you come home than a burnt out shell of an apartment!

A note re: your feathered friends.... Imagine trying to stay warm when you live outdoors! The caloric needs of the wildlife just to stay warm are immense! Birdseed can be a total rip-off (I buy mine in bulk from Kitsilano Natural Foods when I get out that way - avoid specialty bird and wildlife stores to avoid the sky-high prices!), and I have discovered that half the things on my kitchen floor that get swept up are edible! So I always throw my sweepings onto the balcony, I shake out the toaster crumb tray outside, and all those unpopped popcorn kernels, rolled oat flakes and the stale Cheerios in the bottom of the box get regifted to the little guys huddling on the railing trying to stay warm. Dried out stir-fry noodles on the stove-top, unwanted crusts, crumbs in the bottom of the cracker box, stale nuts and seeds, petrified raisins you forgot you owned - don't trash these! I've even chucked out expired pork chops that the crows went nuts for (note that as a pescetarian I would have little use for pork chops to begin with!). Another good thing to do is fill a small container (shallow - like a hummous container or those shallow cottage cheese or sour cream ones) with warm water - the availability of water is pretty scarce when it hasn't come above freezing in days and days. It'll be frozen by the time you get home, so make sure you melt it or provide another container the next day.

Homemade birdfood: crumbs and stale stuff!
Homemade birdfood (snowed on) and the recent addition of cheese muffin pieces - big hit!
And finally, a related thought that is a little more important than the sweet little songbirds - the homeless and the impoverished. Knowing that birds require an enormous amount of food to stay warm in this weather, you can imagine the caloric needs of a young man at this temperature! Give generously to food banks and outreach kitchens, and remember the needy always (not just at Christmas or during the winter, but all year round). As miserable as you are walking to a car or bus, imagine being outside all day and night. While we're at it, let's get back to demanding more social housing! Everyone deserves a warm place to sleep at night.