Writers need access to Canada's past

Picture this: you’re writing a feature article, set in small-town Ontario, and need to locate some historical information. You’ve done this type of research before; you know just what to do. But then, you learn that the local archive is closed because the Harper government cut the grant program that helped fund rural record keeping. So you go without. Your research is incomplete. Maybe another time you need to find current statistical data, but you realize the data is seriously lacking because there is no mandatory long-form census. That was cut too. But this doesn’t stop you from going to the Library and Archives (LAC) in Ottawa, where you’ll ask the archivist to help you find the information you need. But once you get there, you find out that staff is drastically reduced and there is no front-line service. Go online, you think. But you can’t find what you need, and there is no one to help you. The keepers, organizers, and retrievers of Canada’s history and heritage have been cut like the awkward kid on a high school sports team.

Access to information is essential for any writer. These days, research is becoming increasingly more difficult, with cuts to the Library and Archives Canada’s budget and changes to its mandate. For some reason, this topic is little discussed in mainstream media. Perhaps it’s because it brings to mind images of little white-haired librarians and hunched over archivists - in other words, people think it’s boring. Or maybe it’s because if the implications were understood by the general public, the government would be accused of stifling democracy. Whatever the reason, Canadians will be the ones to suffer.

The LAC is set with the mandate to “preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations,” but it cannot meet this mandate with the changes brought about by the Harper government.  Libraries and archives in various government departments have closed, eliminating access to specialized information. Physical collections are being digitized and the physical copies stored away, no longer accessible, while others are deemed altogether unessential and disposed of. The public (meaning us writers) will only be able to access digital, on-line copies of a fraction of the LAC holdings. To make things just a little more challenging to find, summaries of material will no longer be written by those pesky librarians or archivists. People won’t have to suffer the long-winded jargon of the professional Shush’ers. No, now summaries will be written by regular ol’folk. Making the search functions that much more effective, presumably.  Worried that these changes may affect your future research and writing? You should be. The LAC will no longer be burdened with the responsibility to be the “legal deposit of everything published in Canada and all government records.” The changed mandate will now require individual government departments to decide what is “valuable”.

Libraries and archives hold our collective memory; they allow us to look into our past and to make sound and informed decisions for the future. They also hold governments to account, which is essential in a true democracy. Cuts to funding and changes to mandate seem to serve only short-sighted goals: the trimming of federal spending and the moratorium on acquiring new materials. In other words, that creative non-fiction novel you write may not even make it into the LAC.

Amanda.jpg

Amanda Kavanagh

Amanda Kavanagh was an educator and is an aspiring writer. During her career as a teacher she came to the realization that she needed an outlet for her strong opinions. She enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. Along with her career change, Amanda has also made some life changes. Her do-it-yourself projects, gardening and research into living a cleaner and more satisfying life have become some of her favourite past-times.

Amanda peruses these sites from time to time:
Mother Earth NewsDesign SpongeTop Documentary Films | Global Research

Getting rid of plastic and throwing pottery

As I’ve mentioned before, I am surrounded by creative people who have some uniquely useful skills and I’ve been trying to learn from their example. For instance, my friends just opened an Etsy shop a few months ago selling knitted goods, and my sister-in-law, Nina, has a substantial tumblr showcasing her stellar cooking skills.

I already know that I'm not going to take up knitting anytime soon (too many numbers), and so, when Nina asked me to join a pottery class with her - a throwing class to be more specific - I took her up on her offer. We signed up for Throwing for Beginners at Loam Clay Studio in Hintonburg. Sometimes, when learning a new skill, it’s sort of impossible to do it at home. 

Learning to make dishes out of natural materials is one way to get rid of plastic in the home. Plastic is made from petrochemicals, and it can leach harmful chemicals into food – the most notable of which is Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA has been linked to health problems, like cancer, reduced fertility, and miscarriages – you can read more in-depth about it here. Any chance to limit my exposure to plastic is a good thing.  

My husband and I have already changed most of our cookware to cast iron and ceramic and we’ve disposed of all our Teflon. Our utensils and containers are mostly glass, wood, and stainless steel. We’re not completely plastic-free yet, it’s almost impossible to be, since food from the grocery store comes in plastic packaging and Tupperware is handy at times, but we try our best. But above all, we didn’t have anything that we had made ourselves (although, my husband is always talking about making wooden mugs - he did make a wooden spoon).

Here is a video of Chris Donnelly from Cyan Clay Works in the UK that depicts the same methods that we learned in class.

I found working with pottery and a pottery wheel very challenging. Just learning how to hold my hands and use the correct pressure took a few classes and a lot of trial and error. It was about the fifth class before I was comfortable and making things that looked the way I wanted them. When I finished the course, I had eight differently shaped vessels: a squat mug, two average sized bowls, and two smaller bowls. The rest could be classified as vases or pen holders (they're all functional too, except for a dribbly spout). Seeing what everyone made and knowing that we all shared a sense of accomplishment was a bonus.

 

Amanda.jpg

Amanda Kavanagh

Amanda Kavanagh was an educator and is an aspiring writer. During her career as a teacher she came to the realization that she needed an outlet for her strong opinions. She enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. Along with her career change, Amanda has also made some life changes. Her do-it-yourself projects, gardening and research into living a cleaner and more satisfying life have become some of her favourite past-times.

Amanda peruses these sites from time to time:
Mother Earth NewsDesign SpongeTop Documentary Films | Global Research

 

Inspired by quilting - completed with frustration

 Nice thumbs!

Nice thumbs!

Most of my inspiration for making things has come from friends and family. When I was growing up, my mom would often make our clothes from patterns. She would garden, make relish and jam, and baked food for our lunches. My grandmother knitted us sweaters, slippers and mittens, and my great grandmother hand-quilted us blankets. To be honest, I have to admit that I never took the time to learn any of these skills, besides trying to alter t-shirts and hem jeans.

When I first met my husband, I learned that his mother co-owns a quilt store in Orleans and his brother (check out his tumblr) and sisters are all very creative and productive. It was just a coincidence, but a nice one – and I wasn’t going to miss my chance to learn something from them. I thought about the love and care that goes into a homemade item, especially one that is made for a specific person – and I knew I wanted to try it. Quilting takes a lot of time, patience and precision. I learned, as I took up sewing, that this is something that I need to work on. Sewing is not for everyone, and it’s not something (I should confess) that I do very often, but I do know how rewarding it can be.

While working part time at Quilty Pleasures (isn’t family great?), I was surrounded by people who were always starting or finishing projects. Latching on to their creative inspiration, I decided I wanted to make something that would help me with my sewing skills. But it had to be a project that was easy enough for a beginner who, at times, can lose her cool with a sewing machine. 

Deciding to make a set of oven mitts for a friend, I found a pattern online, bought my supplies at Quilty Pleasures and began the task of putting together the pieces. It was a bit of a struggle. I had to rip out stitches and re-sew some areas, but I did make a working pair of oven mitts. It was such a relief to see the finished product, even with the misshapen thumbs. The only problem was that my friend was reluctant to use them, not because they would fall apart (at least that’s what she told me), but because she didn’t want to get them dirty.

Amanda.jpg

Amanda Kavanagh

Amanda Kavanagh was an educator and is an aspiring writer. During her career as a teacher she came to the realization that she needed an outlet for her strong opinions. She enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. Along with her career change, Amanda has also made some life changes. Her do-it-yourself projects, gardening and research into living a cleaner and more satisfying life have become some of her favourite past-times.

Amanda peruses these sites from time to time:
Mother Earth NewsDesign SpongeTop Documentary Films | Global Research

 

My love affair with coconut oil

 Reuse glass jars for creams.  

Reuse glass jars for creams.  

I love using products that smell awesome, smooth my skin and hair, lessen the appearance of wrinkles or acne, and just make me feel good as much as the next person. But, when I thought about all of the potentially harmful chemicals I was exposed to daily, I started thinking about alternatives. I was also spending money on new products that claimed to perform miracles and not seeing any results.

Then, I found out about coconut oil. It’s turned out to be the most amazing product I have found. It can be used as cooking oil, in baking, on toast, added to smoothies, oatmeal or coffee, as a skin cream, hair de-frizzer, toothpaste, and deodorant. It can do so many things that I can’t list them all here, so go to this site for more info.

My favorite ways to use coconut oil are as an overall body and face cream and deodorant. When I make my skin and face cream, I mix about 20 drops of tea tree essential oil with the coconut oil in a 500 ml jar. This one jar has taken the place of body cream, day/ night face creams, and has the added benefits of protecting against UV, wrinkles and acne. I feel great knowing that I am not adding toxins like parabins, parfum, petrochemicals, and preservatives to my skin.

Now, onto homemade deodorant - I know how that sounds, believe me, but it’s actually the best thing ever, it just takes some getting used to because it's applied like a cream. Deodorants do not block pores so that underarms are still able to sweat, which is a good thing.

 Deodorant, ready to go! 

Deodorant, ready to go! 

We sweat because it’s a natural process that eliminates extra toxins from our bodies (the rest are expelled in other ways…). It’s important to not use antiperspirants, which contain heavy metals such as aluminum. Coconut oil is a natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal (bacteria causes that bad underarm smell). Since I started using this, I have never had a smelly day, I rarely need to reapply, but, I do sweat. I'll take the good with the socially awkward. It can also leave a white mark on clothes, so plan ahead. There are plenty of recipes for this online, and you can change them up and add a personal touch.

Seriously, go out and get yourself some coconut oil!

Amanda.jpg

Amanda Kavanagh

Amanda Kavanagh was an educator and is an aspiring writer. During her career as a teacher she came to the realization that she needed an outlet for her strong opinions. She enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. Along with her career change, Amanda has also made some life changes. Her do-it-yourself projects, gardening and research into living a cleaner and more satisfying life have become some of her favourite past-times.

Amanda peruses these sites from time to time:
Mother Earth NewsDesign SpongeTop Documentary Films | Global Research

 

When I stopped talking and started doing

 Our cat, Franny, helping out.  

Our cat, Franny, helping out.  

Although this is a blog about making things to live a more self-reliant life, I’m not going to pretend that I’m super economical, sustainable, and environmental all of the time. What I’ve found is that it’s a process. I started by reading and talking about the environment, toxins, and pollution. Then I started thinking about the food I was eating, the things I was buying, and finally, I started doing.    

Doing is harder than talking. It has also been a serious learning curve. I do what I can, when I can, and I feel good about it. I buy organic and fair trade foods, I shop at local, independent stores, and only buy what I need. I try to make every day useful things to save money and to live a cleaner, simpler, and more satisfying life.

Learning to be more self-sufficient and aware of how my choices affect people, animals, and nature is rewarding and challenging. But it can be done! And it feels pretty good to know that if I can change, so can other people.

Our first major attempt at making things was a few years ago while living in Centretown. We lived in an apartment with an amazing top-floor deck. There was so much space and sunlight that my husband and I decided to start a container garden. We went to a workshop, bought bags of black earth and compost, lumber, and seeds.  We also got this book as a gift, which is beyond helpful – The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City.

 Mid-summer bounty.  

Mid-summer bounty.  

We made our own designs and measured, cut and nailed together lumber to make three connected boxes that could easily be taken apart and moved around (my husband owns tools, but borrowing from neighbours is a great option). They turned out beautifully! We started our seeds in the kitchen then transplanted them into the boxes and buckets. We had our very first urban garden. Since then, we try to find reclaimed items rather than buying new, but it was a start and it felt awesome. Being able to go outside and pick my own vegetables and herbs was such a great feeling – it was totally worth the effort.

Amanda.jpg

Amanda Kavanagh

Amanda Kavanagh was an educator and is an aspiring writer. During her career as a teacher she came to the realization that she needed an outlet for her strong opinions. She enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. Along with her career change, Amanda has also made some life changes. Her do-it-yourself projects, gardening and research into living a cleaner and more satisfying life have become some of her favourite past-times.

Amanda peruses these sites from time to time:
Mother Earth NewsDesign SpongeTop Documentary Films | Global Research