Beneficial Ladybug

I love dressup!  This year I decided to be a Beneficial Ladybug (Coccinellidae) which should be encouraged in gardens and greenhouses because they eat a wide variety of common pest insects... plus they're cute!  I found a bunch of my other costumes when I pulled out my dressup box and got nostalgic for halloweens past...
from L to R: Delerium (Sandman), Pirate Wench, Rainbow Brite, Voodoo Doll


Tricks n Treats!

The great thing about Halloween on a Sunday is that it feels like a proper holiday weekend!  Three whole days of decorating, pumpkin carving, dress up, green/orange/purple foods from the farmers market, and of course parties!  How could this not be your favourite holiday?  Everyone I met downtown St. Catharines was also really well costumed - my favourite was the Zombie couple, and I met another lovely ladybug! :)


Spooky Cabbage Rose Desktop

While inspecting the ornamental cabbages for aphid infestations I took this shot, 
then made all spooky-like to grace my desktop for Halloween weekend!


Mossy Boneyard Terrarium

I used to eat lunch in the St. Mary Cemetary every day and found it to be a lush, green, peaceful place so when I made my terrarium graveyard I wanted it to be a tabletop oasis in my midterms / halloween busy days and only a little bit creepy!  When Halloween is over I'll replace the skulls with these autumn mini-topiaries but leave the gravestones.

(Inspired by @LarkCrafts post TheGraveyardShift)



Living fossils from the Jurassic age these Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta) aren't really palms at all, but Cycads - a type of seed plant that could be the evolutionary link between primitive ferns and more evolved flowers.  (I love organisms that defy classification - fungi in their own kingdom, chloroplastic sea slugs that are part animal/part plant)  I got one at the farmers market for my grandma so she could see firsthand what the vegetation in South Carolina is like.

However, my brother with his always-questioning nature didn't believe me that they're not palms and reproduce more like conifers.  So @Stephen_Job here you go:  Cycads are a division of their own (Cycadophyta) within the seed producers (Spermatophytes) but while they share characteristics and are often mistaken for both the seedless vascular plants such as ferns (Pteridophyte), and the more evolved flowering plants such as palms (Palmaceae) they produce neither flowers nor seeds and represent an interesting intermediate between both plants.  Instead of requiring two separate generations and organisms (plant and spore) in order to reproduce like ferns, cycads produce modified leaves (sporophytes) which develop either cones or seed-like megaspores at the base and require pollination just like dioecious flowering plants.  But for some reason Cycads stayed put at that point in their evolution while the conifers and flowering plants passed them by allowing us a little window into the forests of the Jurassic period!


Abandon All Hope

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. 
Justine roughly translated this Dante quote into latin and we printed it for a seasonal entry sign.  First Justine burned the edges, then we dyed it in tea before putting it in the oven to dry and colour.  We baked it on a low temperature, until mostly dry, flipping occasionally to avoid curl then turned it back over to the broiler for a few minutes to bring out the brown tea colour and a bit of a burnt highlight. 


Eat Local? Vote Local!

I went out to vote in my Municipal elections today (#VoteSTC) but apparently I was in the distinct minority.  On the other hand, with a voter turnout of roughly 30%, every single vote is very important!  My city councillor Mat Siscoe won by a margin of around 500 votes and his friend Marty Mako in Port Dalhousie lost by only 26!   Contrary to most people's opinion which is that municipal politics doesn't matter, for "locavores" and community supporters, and as a short term resident of the city this is the best type of election. 

Quick refresher:

~in this type of election we vote for:
    -Regional Council
    -City Council
    -School Board Trustees

~this level of Government affects:
    -emergency services: police/fire/ambulance
    -utilities, sewage, water, waste
    -arts & culture funding, libraries
    -municipal parks, urban forestry, street trees
    -education, school board, public sports 
    -transit and local roads (paving, construction)
    -city development, zoning, bylaws
    -municipal taxes and budgeting

For locavores like myself, some important issues fall under municipal legislation and administration.  For example, the right to raise chickens within the city limits was a bylaw amendment, and issues such as bike lanes on city streets or extended bus hours/routes are definitely decided by city council.  Zoning issues, such as keeping a vibrant entertainment district separate from quiet residential streets or limiting the sprawl of subdivisions is the responsibility of the mayor and city council.  Our electricity and water is administered through regional or municipal public corporations so advocating for green energy is done through the local and regional administration.  Even green buildings codes and practices, such as St. Catharines first green roof on the Lock 3 viewing centre are voted on by city councillors as are forward thinking green policies such as the city's ban on pesticide use which predated the province-wide legislation.  Local representatives are called such because they represent a very precise section of the community, they live here right among us and have the same vested interest to have local ideas represented.

I'm glad to have Mark Elliott representing Ward 4 again as he has done a great job advocating for arts and culture in the downtown, while still preserving our heritage charm.  And I'm glad to welcome my favourite candidate Mat Siscoe (seen above campaigning late into the night), the youngest councillor I've ever been represented by - I'm really glad to witness a new generation getting involved at all levels of local politics!


Book Review: Wicked Plants

Creatively designed little books entice me the way picture books did when I was a child - there's something so deliciously satisfying about a book with enchanting pictures.  Wicked Plants  is a morbidly informative little book that I love but find a little unsettling detailing all sorts of poisonous plants from those used by the KGB (Castor bean) to those found at home (White Oleander).  

The deranged behavior that led to the Salem witch trials may have been caused by ERGOT (Claviceps purpura), a fungus that grows on rye and causes wild hallucinations.

I just heard tonight about Neil Gaiman's idea for bringing reading to Halloween night: "You know, there aren't enough traditions that involve giving books."  #allhallowsread encourages book giving and reading as a ritual on more occasions.  In honour of this new  tradition and because I love halloween-y things I'm reposting this review of one of my favourite books: Wicked Plants.  Its an eerie compliation of botanical facts driven by interesting characters and intertwined with gorgeous etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs using a technique that dates back to the 1600s!  (more info). Working from life, photographs, and antique botanical illustrations, she sketched each of the forty plants in the book before etching them into the copper plates.  Its a perfect creepy little halloween gift!

If you're still not convinced you can preview the book here
Available in the St. Catharines, Guelph, Hamilton and Toronto Public libraries under the call # 581.65 Ste


undershelf lighting

Tonight's DIY project was a quick fix for a longer problem: my dark bookshelves create shadowy pockets that like to eat keys, mp3 players, change etc.  So I got adhesive LED lights from the dollar store that press on and off with a quick touch and are remarkablly sustainable (LED lights never burn out and I have a solar charger for my AAA batteries!)  Simple solution!


Halloween Artifact / Concoction Labels!

Using translucent label paper to mimic frosted glass, I printed menacing labels from 
Martha Stewart's free halloween clip art collection.  The common culprits in my kitchen masquerade as far more deadly concoctions: rock salt becomes Volcanic Rock Dust, baking soda transforms into its Cyanide counterpart, white cleaning vinegar stands in for a lethal "one finger" Gin cocktail and yes that's deadly dishsoap with the floating skull!
Here are the links to Martha's free clipart (I modified them slightly for my own uses)
Deadly Botanical Artifacts
Lethal Concoctions


@OntarioPressSec #savedtheday !

I've seen firsthand what happens when a 3 year old's mum can't ID a certain superhero:
         Mum... what's his name
         Mum... what's his name
         Mum... WHAT'S HIS NAME
So when I saw this light hearted exchange between the Premier's Press Secretary
and a Yummy Mummy Blogger it brought a bright smile to my day! 
And I agree - these funny moments are what Twitter is really about, plus if someone with efficient research skills can help out a harried mum then all the power to them both for connecting through the interweb!  Shona this one's for you!  http://bit.ly/9viq4f


Creepy Spider Eggs

Great healthy but grim looking halloween snack: hard boiled spider eggs (can also pass for dinosaur eggs).  Frozen blueberries stain the imprint of cracked eggshells but magically leave no taste!  Hard boil eggs as usual, but with frozen blueberries in the boiling water.  After the eggs are mostly cooked, but still a teeny bit soft - crack them with a spoon and return them to the blueberry water.  Let them sit in the stain at least until they cool but preferably overnight.  Carefully peel the shells, but leave some behind for a "just hatched" effect if you like.  Serve with pepper and grey sea salt for extra-goulish presentation!



I'm hosting yet another great surfer tonight so I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you all about the wonderful world of Couchsurfing!  For the last few years I've met friends from across the country, and around the world... had a home in every city I visited and a network of support in each new place I've moved.  Couchsurfing can simply be a great way to travel on a budget, but for me it has become a lifestyle. 

Couchsurfing is a website-based non-profit organization, more than a million strong, that connects surfers (travellers) with hosts in 230+ countries around the world.  There's no payment involved, no real requirements other than safety, references and common courtesy, its not even a direct exchange volunteer=food/board kinda deal.  That's the beauty of this concept - its an organic ebb and flow that can become whatever anyone needs from it (within reason - one thing Couchsurfing is not: a dating service).  The Couchsurfing mission is to create inspiring experiences and hosting travellers from around the world has certainly given me cross-cultural encounters plus the travel fix I crave but can't have while I'm in school.   Exploring my community time and time again as I connect and show new people around it illuminates the everyday, and the conversations and ideas people bring into my home on a regular basis are truly engaging.  Opening your home to someone also creates an instant meaningful connection, although I've hosted far more than I've surfed, when I'm ready to travel I've got half a dozen countries on my list to visit people I've already met let alone discovering new ones!


5 minute lamp makeover

Another super easy and quick autumn project!  I was collecting beautiful leaves outside and wanted to display their colours in the same luminous way they look with the warm sunlight streaming through them.  I simply inverted a vase over my lamp base and used a thin elastic to secure a handful of them around... then a few acorns for accent and voila!


Superstructures: Nature Under Glass

I've been watching a great documentary about The Eden Project the largest
greenhouse in the world: technologically advanced and an engineering marvel!
A strange structure is taking shape in the rolling green hills of southern England: Engineers are building "Eden".  A sixty metre deep crater is being capped with space-age plastic domes that will be home to thousands of rare plants. The lightweight galvanized steel tubular frames are going up to form enormous self-supporting shells.


keep calm & scary on

Jessica posted this quirky free printable on her blog Craftily Ever After and it was just the thing for my daily Halloween fix!  Everything in my life is scary these days from my mummy cycling gloves to my scarred tomatoes and purple cauliflower (look closer for some more Halloween finger food "props"... or are those real... mwa ha ha ha!)  LOVE IT


Lovely Libraries

These adorable lil notebooks are a fun way to use up some square graph paper scraps I had lying around and the mid 90s library cards from the front and the back of some withdrawn library books found at the Banana Box Booksale earlier this summer!  Caitlin of the blog Packagery has a very straightforward tutorial that I will direct you to should you want to make your own :)
On the Library note: @stcathlibrary had some great Urban Farming inspiration
  • Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato (Arthur Allen)
  • The Scavenger's Manifesto (Anneli Rufus, Kristan Lawson)
  • Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry (Madhur Anand, Adam Dickinson)
  • Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (Novella Carpenter)
  • Pickled, Potted & Canned (Sue Shephard)
  • City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing (Lorraine Johnson)


Kudzu (Pureraria montana)

"the vine that ate the South"  Where this vine came from (Asia) and why it was first introduced is really irrelevant at this point because Kudzu, 'vine' in Japanese, blankets most of the eastern United states and is rapidly moving our way!  After seeing it cover whole surfaces of the forest along parts of the Georgia and South Carolina highways, its chilling to know patches of this stuff have been spotted along the shores of Lake Erie near Leamington, ON.  A single plant can cover up to 100x50ft and can grow 50-60ft in a single growing season!  The mature plants have a giant fleshy taproot that can grow up to 7" wide, 6-12" deep and can weigh 200 - 300 lbs!  The taproots can withstand even harsh winters, sprouting up to 30 new vines each season.

It is interesting to note however, that across much of Asia this vine is used as a high quality forage crop prefered by livestock.  Close grazing by a high density of livestock over a number of seasons can eliminate the vines when 80% or more of the vegetative growth is continuously consumed.  Another scary tidbit of info for Ontario farmers: Kudzu vine can act as an alternate host and vector for soybean rust.



Travel Day

Today I was in four different states and one province!
Braddock Cove, SC -> Savannah, GA -> Phillidelphia, PA -> Buffalo, NY -> St. Cats, ON!


Braddock Cove, SC

My room has a porthole window!


In Savannah we only use real butter!

I like to eat local food wherever I go, but I also prefer to eat healthy.   My mum even made a post on Tripadvisor asking for suggestions...  My 23-year-old daughter is interested in finding a place to eat that showcases a new take on traditional southern food. She's looking for fresh, modern, health-conscious food. But based on southern traditions. Any ideas? Thanks.  The response?  Traditional Southern cooking does not equal healthy. Any southern cuisine will be loaded with butter, salt, bacon drippings, etc. 
So although I did my best, I also had a week of deep fried, breaded everything!  Even vegetables such as "mess of greens" are slathered in butter or bacon fat.  My first day in Bluffton took care of the southern staples: BBQ pork, grits, hushpuppies, fried green tomatoes and after that I stuck to local seafood and rice (easily grown in the marshy Carolina bays).  
My favourite meals were She Crab Soup and Lowcountry Boil (shrimp, corn on the cob, sausage, potato) and in the afternoons a basket of crab dip with a melon colada from the Salty Dog Cafe.  Dad's "Sea Dog" with Hilton Head Kettle Chips wins the award for best looking meal.


Sea Pines Plantation

Mounds of shells tell us that native americans have lived on this island for 1000s of years, but the modern history begins in 1663 when the island was named for Captain Hilton who brought european exploration to this part of the coast.  Hilton Head is the largest barrier island on the Eastern Seaboard.  Throughout history it was home to the Sea Island  Cotton Trade, and a Confederate stronghold.  Settled after the civil war by native islanders, mostly freed slaves and then developed over the next century as a resort settlement, today Hilton Head Island is an active destination with an eco-friendly reputation - part gated community but with large public beaches and mindful attention to maintaining treecover.

The Sea Pines Plantation itself is relatively new - conceived in the 1960s and developed in the 1980s as a golf destination and host for the Heritage Classic.  Like the rest of the island, Sea Pines is an intentionally planned community with ecological intentions and attention to detail.  Charles Fraser, inventor of the modern American resort, and his team captured an endogenous "Sea Pines Style" influenced by 1960s modern architecture (California/Japanese), Frank Lloyd Wright's Auldbrass Plantation, and most of all the vernacular of the surrounding community - a Lowcountry aesthetic evoked by large overhangs, screened porches, low roof slopes, earth toned colours and a progressive use of native plants long before they were popular in the mainstream.

South Beach Marina

Sea Pines Beach Club

Heritage Farm CSA Garden

Harbor Town

Schooner Beach


Middle Atlantic Coastal Forest

Pines + Palms = Interesting!  South Carolina is home to a large assemblage of wetland communitiesas well as a diverse mix of vegetation.  I've never ever seen palms and pines together!  Hilton Head Island is 1/2 sea island and 1/2 barrier island with a tidal marsh in the middle - an essential part of the unique Carolina bays.  The local climate is humid and subtropical, often subjected to hurricanes, floods and fires and the island is mostly dry sandy soil.  As a result, the coastal areas I've been bicycling around are covered in temperate coniferous forest or coastal plains. 
Coastal Carolina Vegetation: Thriving Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) keep their leaves year round, draped in dramatic Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) an indicator species in this southern coastal forest.  Mixed subtropical pines: Longleaf (P. palustris), Shortleaf (P. echinata) and Loblolly (P. taeda), interspersed with tropical palms: Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) and Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto) are a dramatic background to a variety of Magnolias: Southern (M. grandiflora), Sweetbay (M. virginiana), Cucumbertree (M. acuminata) and an occasional dramatic character reference: the Sourgum Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica).


Coastal Carolina Wildlife

 Beach Creatures:


Pepper's Porch / Bluffton Farmers Market

My first morning in South Carolina we drove slightly inland from the coast to Bluffton, a quaint southern town with a storied history and my first experience in "the South".

An old Lowcountry town with a bit of elevation and a sea breeze, Bluffton was settled in the early 19th century by plantation owners seeking refuge from insects and heat.  This town has deep Confederate roots, literally - the "Secession Oak" was the site of an anti-federalist protest, 16 years before South Carolina became the first state to secede and during the Civil War, and 20 years before Union soldiers burnt the majority of the Confederate stronghold to the ground.  Bluffton was slow to rebuild but with the growth of the fisheries along the coastline it became a commercial center by the 1880s with multiple oyster companies including Bluffton Oyster Co (founded in 1899 and still operational today).  Today it is a tourism destination as it is a snapshot into the historical "southern" coastal town.
We had lunch at Pepper's Porch a southern-style family restaurant in a 100 year old barn.  I had my first real southern meal and we tried a little bit of everything: BBQ pulled pork, oysters, hush puppies, grits, fried green tomatoes and fried pickle spears.  I somehow get the feeling everything this week is going to be fried!
Contrasting the saturated meal was a fresh farmers market featuring local staples: Georgia peaches, Carolina grapes, okra, squash, tomatoes, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, beans and rice.  We also got ravioli stuffed fresh on the spot with crab, corn and bacon!  Then I explored the few remaining antebellum structures that survived the fire, now housing an outdoor art gallery, a general store and quaint shops including one selling only dresses that I fell in love with.