Saturday, April 23, 2011

Carrots from Milk - Happy Belated Earth Day!

Happy Belated Earth Day, Readers!

I spent most of Earth Day recovering from a dress try-on session at my Mom's place (which involved snacks and much too much wine). Once I felt well enough, I ventured outside - what beautiful weather we're having!

So beautiful, in fact, that I've planted my tomatoes rather early (supposed to be out once nighttime temperatures stabilize to 7 C or higher, or end-of-May for the later varieties). They seem to be doing alright so far. (I feel like a proud grandmother, unable to resist posting brag photos.... this post was never intended to be about my tomatoes, but here we are....!). Also included is a shot of the privacy-screen-to-be, my Romano Pole beans. They shouldn't be outside yet either, but were quickly outgrowing even the 2L milk carton pots I had transplanted them into!

Latah Tomato (Stellar Seeds)
Siletz Tomato (West Coast Seeds)

Gold Nugget Cherry Tomato (West Coast Seeds)

Sweet Million Cherry Tomato (West Coast Seeds)

Privacy Screen-Beans! Romano Pole beans (West Coast Seeds)

While container gardening on balconies has many, many challenges and downsides, there are a few perks that we can take full advantage of:
  1. Overhead protection (unless you're on the roof!). Eaves or the balcony above you at least partially shield your plants from nasties like frost, hail and hard rain or sleet. Wind is obviously always going to be a bit of a concern, but staking and strategic plant pot arrangement can help quite a lot.
  2. Radiant heat. (We sailed against a boat by that name - great name!). If you're fortunate enough to have a south-facing, west-facing or southwest-facing balcony (I count my blessings....!), then chances are your building's walls are soaking up the heat all day long. Tarmacadam below will do the same, as will concrete, and even wood-siding. At night when the air cools, your plants will be a few degrees warmer than their country-cousins.
  3. Urban sprawl. Yes, I may have found an upside to an otherwise sad reality, but living in the concrete jungle means LOTS of radiant heat. Ever wondered why it rarely snows downtown but nearly always does out in the 'burbs? Partly geography, but it has quite a lot to do with the large buildings storing up heat from the sun during the day (or grossly inefficient buildings giving off heat indiscriminately in a concentrated area). So although this is kind of a repeat of point #2, I felt it worth mentioning since there's your balcony's micro-environment, and then the next-size-up micro-environment of your city, as compared to the macro-environment of the larger region. 
  4. No blights or soil issues. The beauty of container gardening is that the soil tends to come from a bag, and not what's in the yard. So we avoid issues like blights and rusts and black-spot, because if the soil gets bad, we'll simply replace it. We can rotate crops, if we want to, and we can plant cover crops for the winter, but then again, we don't really need to. Soil pH is also rarely a problem, as purchased soil is so often optimally balanced in nutrients and acid/base. Easy peasy!
  5. No carrot rust fly. Perhaps most relevant to this post, the carrot rust fly - the scourge of the vegetable gardener. I learned the most about it on West Coast Seeds' website; apparently these little buggers (that will render your carrots bitter and inedible) can't fly very high at all. So if you're NOT on the ground floor, good news! No worries about this irritating little pest. I'd like to say that you'll have less pests in general if you're elevated (i.e. slugs, snails, sow bugs, etc.), but a friend down the hall has woodbugs on her balcony, and I have ants. Well, at least there's a modest reduction in creepy crawlies. Certainly haven't had slugs or other slimies, but something's eaten holes in my spinach, and probably something that can fly, so I blame the cabbage moth.
Right, back to CARROTS, which is what I really wanted to post on!

You may recall from a Green, Broke and Living in Kits recycling tip that milk cartons aren't recyclable in Metro Vancouver. Boo and hiss, says I. So I suggested reusing the milk cartons as seedling pots, something I've had great success doing in the past (as well as this season).

I needed a deep container for growing carrots, and I have already allotted all the remaining planter space to other seedlings. And my partner loves fresh carrots from the garden! What to do?

Well, I came with a tacky, albeit ingenious (if I don't say so myself) solution to both problems: I plant carrot seeds in soil I dumped into empty 2L milk cartons!

I can't wait 'til these are overflowing with bushy carrot tops!

All I do is rinse the cartons once empty, punch a couple of drainage holes in the bottom with a pen or pencil (satisfying to do!), fill with potting soil and sow 4 pelleted seeds (Bolero pelleted). Otherwise, I suppose I could just scatter seeds and thin as you would do with traditional carrot seed. Figure I can squeeze in 3 or 4 (I do four - one for each quadrant). There's an 88% germination rate advertised, so if I lose one every few cartons, that's no big deal.

There are a few upsides (other than the recycling aspect) to reusing the milk cartons as carrot planters:
  1. It's practically FREE.
  2. It's amusing.
  3. The milk's expiry date essentially tags each carton for you, so you know in which order to harvest!
  4. If you plant carrots everytime you finish a 2L carton of milk, you'll have a continuous supply of carrots all season (and into the winter, since carrots are tough that way!).
  5. The rectangular shape and square bases means you can pack 'em together tightly, so they don't take up valuable real estate on the balcony, either.
  6. If they fall off your balcony ('cause you're really pushing the envelope by standing them near the edge or on the rail), they probably won't smash a windshield below or injure anyone too grievously since they're so light-weight!
  7. They make bizarre hostess gifts. You could bring one to a party you wish to never be invited back to. Unfortunately, if the hosts agree with point #2 of this list, you might be expected to bring something inventive each time you're invited over. Either way, you won't be short of conversation at that dinner party.
Can't remember when you planted them? Probably around the time as the printed expiry date! Easy.

I'm going to answer this question right away, because I'm bound to get it:

"I live in a building with a strata council! I can hardly see them giving the 'green-light' to garbage-based planters on my deck!"

Well, there's really two ways about this. First, you can bribe them with fresh produce and give them a cut of the action. I always take extra tomatoes downstairs to the lobby and they don't last very long! So there's definitely a (black) market to take advantage of.

But maybe there's an easier way around it, where you can keep your hard-earned veggies: wait until you have 4 or more cartons (an even number of 6 or higher for a long rectangle, or 9 for a 3 x 3 milk carton square) and group them closely together.

Now it's time to disguise your ill-gotten garbage planter to make it look practically indistinguishable from those heinous plastic things from WalMart (shudder) that everyone seems to have on their decks! (How are they any better to look at, even just aesthetically?!).

You can wrap around the outside of your milk carton grouping with brown kraft paper or landscape fabric or even old jeans you've cut up and sewn into a long enough strip. Tell them you bought the 'recycled denim' planter at the Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware and they'll accept it. You could also paint the outside that faces the street/nosy neighbours (acrylic paint would probably last the season - spray paint definitely, but not so enviro.). Or you can tuck two or more cartons each inside empty basmati rice or coffee burlap bags and cluster those together instead.

Now if that's still too 'hippy' or 'green' for your strata, go to Home Depot or other lumber supply yard, buy forest stewardship council or similarly eco-certified lumber (cedar siding would work) in strips 30cm or 1 foot wide (and then as long as your planter will be), and then cut the same for the length of the side(s) of your rectangular or square grouping. You can simply tack them together (buy some small 'finishing nails' or 'tacks' from the hardware store) by nailing a few nails in the corners (from the broad side of the front, for example, into the 'end' of the side board). It doesn't have to be structurally sound, really - it just has to a frame a partial 'box' that hides your illicit collection of milk carton planters. Voila!

I thought about crocheting a little plarn cozy for each of them, but I'm far too lazy for that. Recycled plastic is hip, so maybe a strata would go for that, so long as the garbage is disguised sufficiently. It is sad, though - out of sight, out of mind applies to our garbage, but it's going somewhere and is piling higher and deeper each day. I wish everyone would keep in mind the MOUNTAIN of garbage we've each generated over the course of our lifetimes so far, and then try to multiply that for everyone in our family, building, workplace, the city, the province, the country, the continent, etc., etc. Scary stuff.

(I watched the Constant Gardener again last night. It has less to do with gardening and more to do with big-Pharma and the greed that runs our world, but it was a good one - definitely rent it if you haven't seen it yet. I went straight to gardening first thing this morning to help me cope with the sad realities of life in the world today).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Day in the Life - A Leisurely, Relatively Cheap Field Trip

Vancouver is the world's most liveable city (again and again) for a reason: our weather is mild (albeit occasionally damp), the scenery is breathtaking - tall Douglas Firs, lush gardens, blue ocean, towering snow-capped mountains, quaint neighbourhoods with very West Coast styled homes . . . I love it here, I really do. There's a few faults of course (and literally - we're on the Ring of Fire after all! Seismically, we're sitting on a geological time-bomb), but I wouldn't change it for the world.

One thing that makes Vancouver so great is the Seawall. Stretching from Coal Harbour downtown, around the whole of the jewel we call Stanley Park (bring the Cup to the park named for the man! 2011 is the year! Erm, sorry - hockey induced hysteria. Where was I?), all along the West End (English Bay, Sunset Beach) and along both sides of False Creek to Granville Island and beyond to Kits Beach.

Thank you GoogleMaps! Uh, okay if I use this? Thanks. Kits Beach = Start!

Only a few segments are good for rollerblading (there's some irritating cobblestones on my side of False Creek, but Stanley Park and the northern sections are perfect), but ALL of it is good for running and walking.

On a warm summer morning (if you're up), it's really the ideal location for a long walk.

For this trip, I will focus on the southern reaches of the Seawall, starting from Kits Beach or Vanier Park (or anywhere inbetween) and out to the Main Street-Science World area.

Distance: about 12.5 km return trip (or 6.25 km one way)

Wear good shoes for walking on pavement and gravel - it's a long trip! It will take a few hours, depending on how quickly you walk and what stops you make along the way. Bring a camera, too - it's a gorgeous walk. For good shoes, I cannot recommend more highly Forerunners on 4th at Collingwood (by Alma). They saved me from runners that were screwing with my knees (the head sales guy at Ladysport was convinced that I pronate, which I don't, and fitted me to a corrective shoe. I couldn't run for two months and was in intense pain when I tried! Bozo! So I limped over to Forerunners later on, bought another pair and have run happily ever after. I went back again just last week and bought the same shoe in the latest model - Asics Gel Cumulus. Awesome. Nice people, too!).

New shoes! They even asked if I needed a plastic bag - extra points for Forerunners!

Follow the seawall along by Kits beach, taking in the sights of the dog park next to the Maritime Museum. From above, you can watch the goofy chaos that is the off-leash area (note that there is a public washroom (parks board) in this area in the building near the trees, if you need it. The other closest one is back at the main part of Kits beach by the concession and playground). Continue on past the Maritime Museum and the totem pole on your right, cross over the parking lot (note the cute arched bridge on the Vancouver Archives property on your right - take a quick detour to cross over it if you want!).

From GoogleMaps - Kits Beach and Vanier Park

Following the gravel path along Vanier Park, you have a perfect, unobstructed view of the West End, Second Beach (Stanley Park), English Bay, Sunset Beach (which is just a hop, step and a jump across False Creek at the other base of the Burrard St Bridge, but I wouldn't try it). On your right is a giant staple (a momument to Captain George Vancouver, apparently), and if it's still up, a polished metal art sculpture entitled 'freezing water' (here for the Olympics and afterward). Sometimes people use the field there to play with kites (the sort you use for kite surfing), and the breezes here make it an excellent spot to fly a traditional kite. When was the last time you did that?

The water traffic is usually entertaining as well: rowers, dragon boaters, out-rigger canoeist, paddleboarders, the Aquabus, sail boats and those revolting monstrosities of fibreglass, the powerboats (which don't run gracefully on the wind but on fossil fuels, and very inefficiently at that. Boo!).

As you come to the Coast Guard building, look up and to the right - there is an eagle aerie and usually a big bald eagle perched above you in the tree. There's also very often a group of tourists clustered together on the seawall below, which helps you to not miss it.

From GoogleMaps: Burrard Bridge, Go Fish inbetween, and Granville Isl & Bridge

Passing under the Burrard Street bridge, remember to KEEP RIGHT (you now share the path with bikes and there's lots of corners for them to whizz around and crash into you!) and do watch for falling debris from the crumbling old bridge. Read about earthquake preparedness here, though I think it should go without saying that the Burrard St bridge (on it or near it) won't be a good place to hang about in a quake!

There's a short cut to the fish dock (up the stairs once you round the bend by 'Cultural Harmony Grove' which is right next to the East side of the bridge), but I like to walk along the sidewalk on the otherside of the building there (continue to follow the path). Either way, you're about to intersect with:

First port of call: Brunch (early lunch) at Go Fish

First weekend of Spring and there was an hour wait for our food by 1pm!

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT come here if you're in a hurry. And don't come here at 1pm, either, or you will wait a good hour for your food. They'll say 45 minutes, but there will be a back-log of an hour. It's that busy! People do call ahead and order by phone, but that's a level of organization that I will likely never achieve!

It's not cheap, so SHARE AN ORDER of 2 piece fish and chips. The portions are generous, and the oily chips and fatty battered fish will fill you up. Besides, you've got some walking ahead of you still!

There's all sorts of nice things about Go Fish (only I'm not amused by their plastic cups for tartar sauce and lemon wedges - waxed paper cups would be a better option for the environment, I think) - local fisheries, and OceanWise choices! Please read up on my blog post on sustainable seafood before you go and choose wisely.

Alright, are you mostly satisfied? You will be once those calories hit home. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

Bathroom break? Best bet is in the Net Loft or Public Market buildings on Granville Island (go up the main entrance road and keep centre-left - the Net Loft will be the building in front of the Public Market. There is a washroom by the cafe in the middle. Otherwise, brave the crowds at the Public Market. You can pick up groceries if you're only doing this as a one-way walk, but otherwise wait until the way home).

From GoogleMaps. Twisty, turvy seawall east of Granville Island.

Back to the seawall! From Granville Island, follow the seawall along past the marinas and enjoy the views of Yaletown and David Lam park as you approach the Cambie Street bridge. All sorts of lovely little parks I've never visited are along this stretch (below VGH area).

At the base of the Cambie Street bridge are some cute little store fronts (there's even a pottery place for some DIY overlooking False Creek and the seawall! So idyllic, and kind of neat to watch - without staring in an annoying manner, of course!).

Need a beer or bevy? Next to Monk McQueen's (lovely seafood restaurant, but $$$) there is a pub (The Wicklow) which I've never stopped in at, but one which is ideally situated for such an excursion. If it's a sunny day and a cold beer would make you happy, why not? You've burned a few calories on the way here.

From GoogleMaps - the seawall under the Cambie Street Bridge

Alright, beer or no beer, it's time to soldier on. Past the Cambie St Bridge is the Millenium and Olympic Village development. Now despite all the fiasco (MAKE IT AFFORDABLE HOUSING LIKE YOU PROMISED, YOU DOUCHES!), the waterfront here is simply lovely. There's even been an effort to plant native shrubbery, and last time I went by a great blue heron was busy snacking on the shore (got to be a good sign - fish and predators. Excellent). The tents of Cavalia are in this area too, and if they're gone by the time you do this walk, it may explain the empty lot that you see.

There are lots of neat little benches and lounge chairs along the seawall here. My favourite is the new pedestrian bridge (no bikes allowed, which is nice - they get another equally nice route). The giant sparrow statues in the centre of Athlete's Village always freak me out a little - you know we'd be bony little worms to them. But good for funny photo-ops, so I'll stop whining.

Second port of call: Absolutely fabulous, virtually line-up free gelato at Mario's Gelati's "Amato Gelato Cafe"

The Best Flavour IN THE WORLD: Italian Plum Cake Gelato @ Mario's

Yes, you've burned enough calories to enjoy some gelato guilt-free (says I)!

1st and Quebec. Probably the best-kept secret in Vancouver. Come in reverence!

Three words you need: Italian Plum Cake. This elusive and comparatively unpopular flavour is positively orgasmic and must not be missed! You can sample a scoop of ANY flavour you want, and I'm telling you that as a reader of my blog, you are OBLIGATED to give Italian Plum Cake a whirl if it's on offer! It's like rum raisin, but better. It's like a trifle, but less custardy. It's smooth, it's pale yellow, it has bits of candied plum in it - it is the gelato that I will forever refer to as my number 1 favourite!

Gin & Tonic on top of Cinnamon. He likes it, but I think it's an odd combination!

There are probably 100's of flavours (I would guess between 150 and 200? Hard to say!), and they're all delicious. Other recommendations include Gin & Tonic (seriously refreshing after a long walk!), Cinnamon (not my thing, but my partner's favourite), the Mango sorbetto and Pink Grapefruit sorbetto (no dairy, and a winning two-scoop combination), and I personally rather like the Red Bean, though I will admit that it caters to Asian taste buds more than Western Caucasian's. Mario's has all the typical gelato flavours too (Spumoni (which is great here!), Dulce de Leche, Hedgehog, Tiramisu, etc.). There's always a few really odd ones too (the Granville Island Brewery Lager one was, umm, a swing and miss! But it was entertaining), but Mario's is, in my opinion, the best gelato in town (possibly the world over, though I've yet to visit Italy...!).

Those display cases wrap around to the left, too.... And there's other goodies on the right!

Unfortunately, for all the loveliness of Mario's, the Amato Cafe is NOT CHEAP. It's actually terribly expensive. HOWEVER, as with the Fish & Chips at Go Fish, sharing a 2 scoop cup will go a deceptively long way. I could barely finish one on my own, and next time I'll be less of a glutton and share.

Sometimes though, the best food is worth paying extra for. I think you'll agree it was worth the price. You've saved at least that on gas or transit fares by walking here anyway!

Second (optional) port of call: Science World

Admittedly, I didn't stop in. It costs money. But I hear that the current OMNIMAX film ("Hubble") is outstanding! (Yes, I have friends that work at Science World!). They also have a surfing one on ("Ultimate Wave - Tahiti"). Now that would be neat! It's $14.25 a ticket, though....

And you're done!

You have a few choices on how to get home (back to the start at Kits Beach, anyway) from here. In order of preference:

  1. WALK BACK. Sure, you'll be sore (in that 'good way'), but you'd be surprised how the vistas change as you start heading back west. There's lots to see, and as you pass by Granville Island again, you can stop in and buy ingredients for dinner. I was, at one time, of the mind that the vegetables at the Public Market were more costly there than anywhere else, but I'm actually not sure the difference is all that great anymore! The selection is unbeatable. Other great places to stop within the market (apart from the produce stands) are the seafood shops, the fresh pasta makers (that fresh squash ravioli with the pink stripes is fantastic!), the Granville Island Tea Company, and The Grainry, where I can find all sorts of useful spices and grains that are next to impossible to pick up elsewhere in the area.
  2. TAKE TRANSIT. The Main Street-Science World SkyTrain is right there. There are trolleys that run up Main, or you can walk to Main and Broadway and catch a B-Line - some great off-the-beaten-path stores are along the way! There's also the 84 express from VCC-Clark station that runs along 4th Avenue in Kits (and along 2nd in this part of the city), but I hear it's incredibly unreliable schedule-wise, so be patient if you're waiting. 
  3. GO FOR DINNER AT CAMPAGNOLO ON MAIN NEAR PACIFIC CENTRAL STATION. Okay, not overly cheap, but very, very delicious. I'd take a date I'd want to impress here. It's Italian food, but real Italian food - not cheap heaps of pasta like at Anton's in Burnaby (not recommended, by the way. Never been, don't want to go. Definitely the most overrated food in the city from what I hear. Loved by people who eat unhealthy-sized portions and equate quanity with quality, and by male SFU undergrad students still in the gangly-phase of growth). Alternatively, if you prefer seafood and a patio, GO FOR DINNER AT MONK MCQUEEN'S. Same cost (more or less), and again, not cheap so perfect for taking a date to (but maybe not for everyday meals!).
  4. TAKE THE AQUABUS BACK. The Aquabus is the maritime equivalent of The Little Engine That Could. It's quaint, it's cute, it's not overly eco-friendly, but it does give one a real appreciation of our waterways, up close and personal. I have a soft-spot for it in my heart, and I have definitely found it the fastest way to get from Granville Island to the West End if you're short on time. It's not free, of course, and isn't included in Translink fares (bummer), but if you live in the area, it's certainly worth buying a pre-paid pack of Aquabucks (I don't believe that they expire, either). It's cheaper this way, and you can carry some in your wallet. The Aquabus stop closest to Kits is at Granville Island. I thought there was one at Vanier Park as well, but weirdly it's not listed. Worth inquiring about, though. Don't forget that there are also Translink trolleys running on 4th that are within easy walking distance of Granville Island. There's also a taxi company right there if you're in real need of express service!
Hope you enjoyed your day!  I know I did.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The W's of Savings in Vancouver

Two general stores the thrifty of Vancouver need to be aware of: Welk's and Wonderbucks.

Now technically Wonderbucks on Broadway is now called "Urban Alley", though the signage incorporates both names (On a side note, the internet never seems to be up-to-date enough for my needs: I went looking for a store on Main Street last month that appeared to be still in existence according to the Internet (Lazy Susan's), but the lovely lady at the Bohemia Gallery gave me the sad news that it had closed its doors for good nearly a year prior...).

Speaking of the internet directory letting me down - Arezzo Consignment in Yaletown is also gone, despite what Google may suggest. Bugger.

Wonderbucks wins the "Best of the City" awards from newspapers like the WestEnder for a reason - it is certainly cheap, often chic, and perhaps most importantly of all isn't Walmart. I hate Walmart, for all the usual green and ethical reasons, but mostly because it's a terrible, terrible place to be. The shopping experience has no positives at Walmart. (This is not a W which I am currently praising!).

Sorry about the image quality - taken with my phone. Great place to get glass storage containers if making the trip out to Ikea fills your heart with dread.

Read my post on Coffee at Home - $10 for a Bodum-style press!

Wonderbucks is great for cooking utensils, plates and glasses, laundry hardware, indoor plants and balcony planters, patio furniture, cheap wall decor, inexpensive rugs, etc. Definitely don't pass by without taking a quick trip through it's aisles! I've also discovered that it's a convenient place to purchase glass storage jars as well.

Not only did I get this all-time favourite tablecloth at Wonderbucks, I also bought the wire basket (which fits my Avalon milk bottles perfectly!), a grapefruit knife (finally - struggling along without one for years), 3 wooden spoons for $1, and a tea strainer/icing sugar duster. Blissful shopping.

Welk's (on Main Street at 19th Ave) is a very useful store, and like Wonderbucks, prides itself on being an old-fashioned 'general store'. It has everything, even Dr Bronner's famous Castille soaps (though I was tipped off by a fellow shopper that Trader Joe's in the US is the cheapest place to buy the large-sized peppermint one. The lady and her partner began to wax poetic on washing with peppermint castille soap in the shower after a workout and the tingly sensation it gives . . . it did not provide a nice mental image, so I haven't tried it myself yet. I used it to clean my patio furniture instead, and that worked very well!).

CHEAPEST place in town to buy Jiffy pellet refills!!! Even cheaper than mail order.

Welk's has a few things Wonderbuck's doesn't bring in (Hallowe'en costumes, pinatas and St Patrick's Day/Easter/Canada Day wearable crap, too), and perhaps most appealing of all (to me), they have racks outside the shop of seedlings - edibles and ornamentals. I loaded up on the usual there last year (alyssums, petunias, gazania daisies, etc.) as well as a few veggies and herbs (cilantro, strawberries, etc.). It's cheap, the selection is surprisingly good, and I didn't have to trek out to a nursery to get them. Reliable but predictable, the plant section is my favourite aspect of Welk's. Good and cheap!

Best way to avoid putting Drano down your pipes? Buy a hair catcher!

...and now for another installment of Green, Broke and Living in Kits Recycling Tips!

Q: Can I recycle my empty paper coffee cups in the 'mixed paper' recycling boxes?

I'm no saint. I make coffee at home, I *sometimes* remember to bring a travel mug, but every so often it's paper-cup time pour moi. I tuck them into my bag and bring 'em home, though, for repurposing!

A: No - you absolutely cannot, I'm very sorry to say.

This is one that stirs up quite a bit of controversy at my two principal work sites. I've seen signs admonishing people for attempting to recycle their paper cups in one area, only to find a stack of empties waist-high, and leaning like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the corner of the lunchroom. On campus, I've even seen an invitation to recycle coffee cups in a paper bin, but I've never been completely certain if they are possible to recycle (I don't see why not, but that never seems to get me very far if the recycling depots of Vancouver feel otherwise).

This topic is not without controversy elsewhere in the city, either. On the Vancouver Coffee Blog, this article cropped up, mentioning that a Vision Vancouver counsillor had proposed a tax on paper cups.

And last month, David MacPherson posted "The Coffee Cup Conundrum" on SPEC's website (The Society Promoting Environmental Conservation). In it, he gives an estimate of coffee cups in Vancouver comprising 3.5% of landfill waste! That's a staggering statistic! Actually, this whole article is very well-written, and I think I'll defer to David on this subject. Please read on here.

And for those too lazy, I'll quote some of the good bits here (thanks in advance, Mr MacPherson!):

Please follow above link to this excellent article. It's a short one!

So what about those recycling bins for paper cups that the Tim Horton's have? (I never would have known this, were it not for this article - I hate their 'coffee'.). Pure, feel-good, white-washed crap, as explained in the article:

On Tim Horton's recycling bins for cups in-store in Vancouver

At this point (although I'm quite embarrassed to admit to it), I have to share that I have reached into countless trash cans around campus and at work to separate the plastic coffee lids from the cups, believing them to be recyclable. I have another post coming on this subject, and so considering the research I've done I ought to have known better. No matter, I'll leave this 'til the next installment. But in the meantime:

Depressing, yes? I thought so. I always enjoy the hefty ceramic cafe mugs and have been quietly lamenting their demise for purely esthetic reasons previously. Alas.

An final thought from Mr MacPherson:

I'm encouraging you (I hope)! :) Let's all try to avoid these EVEN MORE strongly.

And my advice then, to you: TAKE HOME YOUR COFFEE CUPS AND REUSE THEM!

They make excellent seedling containers (just poke a drainage hole in the bottom and fill with soil!), you can use them as gift packages (no, really! Clean it out (or paint it if it's stained and ugly), keep the lid, stuff the inside with strips of used newspaper or crumbled (reused! Go forth to the craft drawer!) tissue paper, put your small gift inside, and voila! With a bow on the top (loops of newspaper strips taped or glued in the centre would be so cute!), it will be the most talked-about gift at your next party. Also a great gag-gift box for the coworker who WILL NOT recycle - take that! The whole package is reused and recycled. Put in recycled metal bracelets or something from Ten Thousand Villages to really tick 'em off good!

And let's all then resolve to carry our reusable mugs. I know I will after reading the SPEC article above.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Semi-monthly Hodge Podge: Mid-March to Mid-April

Happiness = plants that attract bumblebees in April (in this case, trailing rosemary)

It turns out that between helping to plan your own wedding (and all the associated appointments, shopping and events that go along with one!), trying to wrap-up experiments towards a graduate degree, and also dealing with a variety of unrelated but equally time-consuming (and stressful) situations, that your blog gets rather neglected.

I don't know if everyone can relate to this, or only other people fitting into the same relatively uncommon Myers-Briggs personality category as myself, but when I come home at the end of a long day*, all I really want to do is switch off my mind and turn straight to escapism. This is often in the form of a Top Gear episode or perhaps even a quick videogame.

*days get much longer when you're planning a wedding; each and every day after work you have to go somewhere, before wherever it is closes, to pick up, try on or browse for something. Then you have dinner at 9pm and realise that there's more things to do like invitations, phone conferences, email confirmations, that sort of thing. By 11:30 you collapse in a heap but can't sleep for an hour or more because your mind is still racing. At 9am, you have an important meeting with someone not at all sympathetic to your hectic schedule. And the next day begins!

Could THIS be the year?! Oh please, oh please!

Thankfully, it's the PLAYOFFS! Of all the escapism in the world, nothing works for me better than the NHL playoffs (when my team is in it, of course. And that would be the Canucks, just in case there's any question).

I think all Vancouver taxi cabs should have a sign like this on them! Bad Patrick Kane! Pay your cab fares and don't assault drivers!

So on game nights, I'm even more unlikely to blog, and yadda yadda yadda, so concludes my excuses for procrastination at Green, Broke and Living in Kits.

First Item: Bitch about Dan Murphy's Stupid Comments

Funny: Guts McTavish. Sad Try-Hard: Dan Murphy. Stick to sports reporting, Dan.

In yesterday's 24hours newspaper (which I usually discover aboard transit), I was immensely enjoying Guts McTavish's responses in the 5-on-5 segment of the sports section, after I finished reliving the glory of game 1 in the Canucks-'Hawks series of the night before.

Stop cleaning the house! Clean sweep a series, but not the floors. ;)

And then I came to Murph's answers (Murph being Dan Murphy, the baby-faced reporter on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific). You're no Don Taylor! (Sigh - Don Taylor! What a guy! Read his bio - he's truly hilarious).

Dan - you'd never survive if the women left town. You're too pretty...

I don't think Dan's response would have gotten a laugh in even the Mad Men era where women were openly treated as lesser people - the comedic value is simply weak, at best. Since I spent time ranting about it yesterday (and considering it probably won't get published in today's edition), I'll just post my rebuke here:

The extra-attacker: response to Thursday’s edition of “5 on 5”

As a long-time
Canucks fan lacking a Y chromosome, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that Dan Murphy’s witless remarks in Thursday’s 5 on 5 would incite an impassioned rebuttal.

Granted, my first inclination was to hip check him, yank his shirt up over his head and jab his extra-soft underbelly for his suggestion that women should pack up and leave town for the duration of the playoffs. But I’ll be the first to admit that it wouldn’t be very ladylike of me, and so I’m happy to resort instead to venomous verbal blows (see Hosea Cheung’s answer to the same question for a side-dish of irony).

Let’s, for a moment, point out what even the non-sports enthusiast female does for the playoff-crazed men of our city. We all know how deliciously appropriate it was for Vancouver to face Chicago in the first round this year, a team limping into 8th spot in the West without Bolland and their former brick-sh*thouse-on-skates buddy Byfuglien; sports psychology plays such a crucial role in the NHL playoffs. Complete and utter domination of those irritating ‘Hawks would do wonders for the confidence of the Canucks heading forward towards the Stanley Cup finals; but a few preventable goals, an ugly couple of games, and a come-back forcing game 7 could potentially sow some rather insidious seeds of doubt in the minds of our soaring Canucks.

Hence the role of the Canucks t-shirt wearing hottie waitress who serves you and your equally unattractive buddies beers and wings while you shout and holler your way through the game. Despite the fact that she may not know the difference between ‘icing’ and ‘offside’ (or thinks you’re talking cupcake toppings and first-date etiquette), she is instrumental in making you feel like a man.

Waitresses the city over deserve the
Jack Adams for coddling your fragile egos by laughing at your dad-jokes, ignoring your unsightly beer-bellies, complimenting you on your facial fungus (playoff beards yes, but moustaches?! Really?!), and listening to you postulate on why ‘this is the year’ while spraying cheap beer as you lean in to slur your theories in their ears.

If all women left the city during the playoffs, who would be there to make you feel manly? Because I’m willing to bet that in the absence of the shapelier sex, you too will begin to pick up on the sharp, high-def contrast between your physique and, say,
Kevin Bieksa’s and other electrolyte-needing, lactic acid-producing, glycogen-depleting athletes. Without the pre- and post-game pep talks from the ‘coaching staff’, you really wouldn’t be so confident.

We see the truth, but compassionately overlook it – although you talk tough / shout as you call into sports radio, and feel surges of adrenaline as the
Sedins or Kesler light the lamps, you’re getting ever softer, squishier, balder and more ‘teddy-bear’ like with each period that passes on the couch, in the bar, or in the stands.

Here’s my suggestion to any female, hockey fan or otherwise, annoyed by baby-faced Murph’s comments – stop faking it. All of it. Let’s give
Dear Daniel a little taste of the playoffs Keenan-style and shred the ego.

As for GutsMcTavish – brilliant. I don’t even need to pull out the fake laugh or courtesy smile. There really is nothing more impressive and attractive than a truly funny man. Perhaps you can mentor young Murph in the field of comedic commentary and do us all a great service.
Sanrio's Dear Daniel and Dan Murphy (Sportsnet). The resemblance is uncanny.
And in contrast, humour. Thank you Guts. And Massengill.

Second Item: Gardening in April - Bothersome Birds, Sleet and California Dreaming

It SNOWED yesterday at UBC and around 4th and Vine. Snow! No, of course it didn't stick, but it did splash and sting the way only sleet can (miserable stuff!). How utterly depressing. Overnight lows of 3 degrees or less might explain why only a few of my peas actually sprouted (I started a few indoors a couple of days ago for transplant because of the poor results!). Happily, the cilantro, strawberries, spinach, borage and lettuce seedlings are coming along nicely still.

Happy little seedlings, some mine, some Wendy's. Plant-sitting is far preferable to baby-sitting.

Steph and Wendy - it was a brilliant move to go to Coachella, even though you are missing the first few games of the series. There was a thunderstorm two nights ago, and snow/sleet the next day. I can't even imagine the contrast of SoCal right about now!

The cilantro's still growing at least

Sometime during the winter, I picked up a bag of actual birdseed (to supplement the kitchen scraps and sweepings I usually offer up) because it was on sale at IGA. But now that the sun's returned and the insects are back (ants, bumblebees, flies, wasps - you name it!) and our wedding is looming and the bank accounts are at low ebb, it's time to go back to scraps.

Que Pasa tortilla chips (made in Richmond!) have been a staple in my family's home for years. In fact, Que Pasa was one of the first companies I ever contacted to discuss my abhorrence to genetically modified canola oil (are you listening Monsanto? I'll never forget. The younger generations will know. You won't get away with it! If only we could summon Captain Planet....!).

I rather wonder if Que Pasa doesn't translate to 'bird crack'.

Anyway, the chips are awesome, they use as much good stuff (organic, non-GMO) as they can get their hands on, and they're local. Not only that, but they actually invite you to come over to see their chip-making operation in person.

Many a summer afternoon is spent on our balcony, eating homemade salsa (tomatoes, cilantro, onions - I'm growing them all this year!) with a cold beer, G&T or glass of Gazela vinho verde. The cute little sparrows (or at least, what I USED to believe were cute little sparrows, but now regard them as evil Chicken McNuggets with wings, the bastards! I caught them eating my pea plants!) used to hop right up to us to beg for the chip crumbs. Only the Que Pasa chips, mind you - everything else seems far less exciting.

If you leave an empty bag on your deck, it will be filled with sparrows in no time!

Last week, when I was walking back from the grocer, some neighbourly crows flew up to me. So I opened the chip bag and dropped a few for them. Two steps later, more crows. So I fed them. Got to the apartment building - fed three more crows, then went inside.

When I came up to the apartment, crows, seagulls, pigeons and sparrows (no starlings that day) were all either perched on my patio or very near it. I threw out a few more chips and a squawking feathered frenzy ensued. They're nuts for these chips - all birds! People too, but birds even more so! They're still all hanging around today, and the crows and ravens have figured out how to beg from me (I'm weak, I have to admit).

Keep it up crows, and I'll bake four and twenty of you into a pie! Idle threats - even they can tell.

I've been failing at protecting my veggie crops from the birds - some of them (I'm looking at you, crows!) dig into my planters (I also saw them digging up my bulbs in my street garden to look for grubs! Argh!), others peck at my pea plants (yes, I'm sure pea greens are good for you, but can't you wait 'til they grow large enough to handle being pecked?!), and the Herring gulls and pigeons (particularly the pigeons) see every new crop-protecting measure as something to be walked or sat upon to test for comfort. I've noticed that the pigeons will prefentially land on my row marker for the spinach (an empty seed package on a stake) - I had to recycle it eventually because the buggers smushed it!

At right, an eaten and pecked stump of a pea seedling (random mustard green on left)

The irritating birds (who I feed, so really I can only blame myself), combined with the sleet/snow yesterday and the probably hail we had in the night with the thunderstorm the day before, have inspired me to create yet another measure to keep the elements and the avian beasts off of my planters!

Not the prettiest thing in the world, but hopefully will offer some protection from birds and nasty weather. Go Lettuce Seeds, Go!

I present the Plastic Baggie Bird Baffler Cloche! It's admittedly a work in progress, but it should fare better than my first attempt, which involved recycled streamer bits (metallic ribbons) taped to the end of an orphaned chop stick and stuck in the soil (to frighten them off?), with a few stakes holding a length of twine stretched out above it (in an attempt to prevent perching). That one got sat on by a seagull. And the pigeons seemed attracted to the wind-blown reflective ribbons rather than deterred.

Instructions are below:

1. Cut the heat-sealed end off the plastic bag.

2. Cut the plastic bag in half (across the bag - you want to form two tubes).

3. Gather bamboo skewers, defunct chopsticks, actual sticks and twigs or even proper plant supports/stakes.

4. Arrange 4 (if you want a square or rectangular shape) or 3 (triangular - great if you're short on sticks) in your planter. Fit one of your two plastic bag tubes around them (it will take some adjusting) and voila! An ugly but hopefully functional barrier. I'll let you know how it goes...

Here's the 'before' photo (below), with the string and the shiny ribbons to scare them off. I still think this should have worked, but it didn't. Blasted birds.


UPDATE: 2 May 2011
After: I removed the bags since so much new growth has come up! Still having to keep the birds at bay with twigs, but I'm pleased to say the lettuce loved it!

Finally, after a quick wipe-down with castille soap and water, I oiled my wooden deck chairs and table. I didn't have linseed oil (or even baby or mineral oil), so I used some olive oil. I'm wondering if that's going to attract wasps. Hmmm. I'll keep you posted on that front as well.

I have a neighbour who is overly friendly. I know he's not just friendly to me, because my neighbour Stephanie (lots of Stephs in the world!) has also taken measures to build a rudimentary privacy screen for her deck. Now it's one thing to wave and smile at your neighbour from your balcony to theirs, but to holler and shout and insist upon long conversation EVERY TIME you walk onto your balcony is just plain rude. I think our neighbour is finally taking the hint that sometimes people just want a little peace and quiet, but nevertheless I am increasing my efforts to put a visual barrier between our balcony and his. Because when he doesn't holler, he simply stares. For hours. Not cool.

This is what I do when I should really be studying. I make no apologies - my brain needs creative breaks.

This is my 'vision' from a month or two ago. It's actually changed somewhat - I'm sorry to say that fig trees are not readily available in the lower mainland (might have to pick one up when I'm next on the Island!), so for now the 'vertical' component other than the beans on the netting will be filled in by a sunflower plant.

For the trellis - I figured I'd just string up jute twine in a similar pattern to that above, maybe tie off the intersections to form a web. I knew it wouldn't end up looking good, but as soon as the pole beans do their thing, it won't matter too much.

On a failed bridal and bridesmaid shoe shopping trip in Richmond, we hit up the Daiso to grab a few odds and ends (to recuperate our losses). And I found this:

Netting! For the garden! Hemp! And it's $2 for a decent sized trellis!

$2 only! I love Daiso. True, 99% of the stuff is wasteful and sheer poison to our planet, but where else can you buy small enamelled or stainless steel or glass food containers for so cheap? Or garden things? If you're conscientious about what you buy (and how much), Daiso and YokoYaya123 can be your best frugal friends.

Third Item for today - Child Sponsorship

I'm very pleased to announce that we have recently sponsored another child (this time through World Vision). She's a 5 year old girl from Bangladesh. We also sponsor a teenage girl in Botswana through SOS Children's Villages.

Now you might wonder why a blog on being environmentally friendly and frugal in the Vancouver Centre riding (it's election time here, for all non-Canadian readers who are wondering about 'ridings'!) involves Child Sponsorship. I really have been meaning to change the name of this blog to "Green, Broke, Ethical and Living in Kits", but perhaps it's just better to assume that you and I and everyone else are interested in doing the right thing all the time by default.

It's just to the right of the page! Try my quiz to see what suits you!

But hear me out again - I'm a graduate student. My partner is also a grad student. We have NO MONEY. Well, that is, we have no money by Canadian standards. Compared to parts of Africa and Bangladesh, we're rolling in it! Savings? What savings? We don't have them, and I'm pretty sure the vast, vast majority of the world doesn't either. Although we may feel we live hand-to-mouth, there's a much starker reality out there. We might be poor compared to you, but both you and I are rich beyond many people's wildest dreams in other parts of the world (and even here in Canada, when it comes to places like first nation's land reserves and the DTES).

So I challenge and encourage you again to open your heart and shell out $30 a month! It will change and perhaps even save a life, give a child a chance at a better future, and give the basic necessities of life that everyone, EVERYONE is entitled to (in my world, at least).

If I can afford it, YOU CAN.

Here's a link right here that will randomly select a child awaiting a sponsor: Please follow this link. You can help this person so, so easily! Pack your lunch two extra days each month and you'll cover the cost!

Fourth Item - Comparatively Trivial, but Bimini Pub Gossip and a $10 Gift Certificate

I like the Donnelly group of public houses here in Vancouver. Sure, they're as expensive as their competition, but they're always nicer, they're cleaner, and they seem slightly more generous. For instance, I filled out a questionnaire to get a $10 gift certificate, and it actually came in the mail! And we also gave our email addresses in exchange for a shot while we were there! Not to put Donnelly pubs off of such a practice, but my Hotmail account is happy to be stuffed full of more advertising. Unlike human beings, it can live solely on spam.

So I was exceedingly chuffed about receiving $10 to spend at the pub (granted, I have only a month and a bit of a window to use it), and I read on the gift certificate the pubs owned by the Donnelly group.

The Bimini? Alright! Much closer to home than The Academic!

And it listed "The Bimini". (This isn't even listed on their website, so far as I can tell! Scoop for Green, Broke and Living in Kits! Alright!).

Bimini's has been closed since 2007 or something, because of a fire, and according to this article (Business in Vancouver), Donnelly jointly owned it at the time of the blaze. Anyway, it's been in Kits for decades, and for years it's been sitting there, a silent black edifice in the heart of 4th Avenue, essentially wasting space.

Note that the article, written around this time last year, slated reopening of The Bimini in the fall of 2010. Hmmm. Hopefully whatever roadblock it encountered has been removed since.

There are only 2, no 3, bars/pubs on this stretch of 4th ave at the moment (though I admit that I haven't investigated the Burrard to Cypress block in ages): Rowan's Roof above the New Apple Farm Market, Room 18 between Arbutus and Maple, Brown's Social House where the vineyard used to be at 4th and Vine. Brown's Social House on 4th and Vine is *THE* worst drinking and eating establishment I've ever been misfortunate enough to step foot in. The waitresses are beyond bitchy (Everytime! Miserable, miserable people!), the food is crap, the drinks are terrible, and it's just thoroughly unpleasant in virtually every other regard. Such a shame - what a location!

Rowan's Roof is alright. It has a terrible location, though. I keep forgetting it exists and heading elsewhere for a drink. I'm sorry Rowan - it's nothing personal. It's just that your location is terrible and the bar is empty and too dark. There's another pub on the same block as Bimini (Room 18). It's definitely doing something wrong because I keep forgetting it exists and I think I might have gone once but clearly didn't remember. Pizza from Hell across the street is aptly named. I met a nice waitress from there last fall, but even she didn't suggest it worth visiting!

If 'The Bimini' reopens on 4th, and it's managed by the Donnelly Group, WOW! Talk about a revival of that block (between Arbutus and Maple on 4th ave). I for one am very much looking forward to the prospect of a pub worth watching the big game (or PPV) at within my stomping grounds!

So stay tuned on The Bimini front! And if you're at The Lamplighter, The Cinema or any other Donnelly Pub (I recommend The Academic on Broadway myself), make sure you fill in a customer service card for your $10 gift certificate!