Archives for July 2012

Repost: Podcast with Natalie Angell-Besseling of Shanti Uganda

This podcast with Natalie Angell-Besseling of Shanti Uganda first ran last year. I love what Natalie’s doing, though, so I wanted to take this chance to share our discussion again.

Sometimes, in life, things happen serendipitously. This is how I came into contact with Natalie Angell-Besseling, Co-founder and Executive Director of Shanti Uganda. I just happened to be copied on an email that had nothing to do with me, in which Natalie talked about her involvement with Shanti Uganda, and I knew right away that I wanted to talk to her. This is what I love about podcasting – it gives me an excuse to email strangers and ask to have a conversation with them.

Girls doing child's pose in Uganda with Shanti Uganda

So what is it about Natalie that compelled me to talk with her? It’s all about the Shanti Uganda Society, the non-profit group that she helped found. It started with a vision to bring healing to communities in Uganda experiencing trauma, through yoga and conscious birth. Northern Uganda has been ravaged by war, and the people there are still dealing with the effects of that. It touches all aspects of their lives, even decades after the fighting has stopped.

Natalie Angell of Shanti UgandaShanti Uganda’s biggest project is the Birth House, which opened last year. Through the Birth House they offer educational workshops for midwives and traditional birth attendants, as well as preventative care, birth supplies and assistance for birthing women. They’re also working hard to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates from mothers to their babies. But that’s not all Shanti Uganda does. They many other initiatives, including supporting HIV-positive women through their Women’s Income Generating program. They have a very practical approach, and they’re empowering people to make their own lives better. I am really inspired by what they’re doing.

There’s really a whole lot more that I haven’t mentioned here. Shanti Uganda’s work with teen girls, their commitment to ensuring that all of their projects are locally initiated and supported, and their efforts to ensure that all of their positive change will be self-sustaining are amazing. If you’d like to hear more, or find out how you can support the work that Shanti Uganda does, I encourage you to listen to the podcast, or visit Shanti Uganda online:

For another example of serendipity at work, tune into my podcast next week with Crystal Stranaghan. Through happenstance Crystal and I were on a panel together at a local blogging and social media conference, and I found her inspiring. I knew I had to speak with her. If you could use a little bit of creative inspiration as well, you’ll want to hear our conversation. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Climate Change and Pollution: Clarity on the Environment

As I’ve spent more time travelling in green blogging circles, I’ve discovered that environmentalists don’t all agree on what issues are most pressing. There are a whole lot of threats to the health of our planet and the people who live on it, and the truth is that no one person can solve all of them. The green movement is really a collection of people who feel concerned about the well-being of our planet, and generally agree that something needs to be done, but focus on different aspects of that work. Some people are concerned about the toxins we’re exposed to in our daily lives, other people worry about plastic in the oceans, many people strive to protect plant and animal life, some people are working to address climate change and others want to ensure that we have safe and secure food systems.

While many environmental issues overlap, the truth is that sometimes they also conflict. A good example of this is the conflict between reducing our exposure to toxins and reducing our overall consumption. If you have a PVC shower curtain that’s doing the job, but you’re worried that it’s off-gassing chemicals like phthalates, you have a choice to make. Do you replace it, thereby sending a perfectly good shower curtain to the landfill? Or do you keep it, and keep on inhaling whatever toxins it’s putting out every time you visit your bathroom? There’s not a really easy answer on this one.

Keeping in mind that the environmental issues we face are actually diverse, I saw something on Facebook recently that irked my inner scientist. As an engineer, I clocked a lot of time in math, physics and chemistry classes, and I learned to value precision. When we’re discussing scientific problems, we need to be clear about what the problem is if we want to have a hope of solving it. So when I saw an environmentally-inspired political image suggesting that climate change is caused by pollution, I was annoyed by the lack of clarity. In fact, climate change and pollution are two different things.

Climate change is caused by an increase in the concentration of certain greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The three gases responsible for most of the warming in our atmosphere are water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane. None of these gases are pollutants. They’re not harmful to human beings, plants or animals. In fact, they’re produced and consumed by human beings, plants and animals. Carbon dioxide, which is most often pinpointed as the greenhouse gas to be concerned about, was actually present in much higher concentrations in the atmosphere when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

None of this is to say that climate change isn’t a problem – I absolutely believe it is. Since the dinosaurs roamed the earth many species have appeared and disappeared, in part because of changes to the climate. If we toy with our climate, the same thing could happen to us. We need to take that very seriously. My point isn’t that we shouldn’t be concerned, it’s that climate change and pollution are two different things, and one can exist without the other.

Having said that, it is true that in some cases climate change and pollution are connected. Burning fossil fuels releases both greenhouse gases and pollutants. As well, as temperatures increase levels of certain pollutants increase. All the same, it’s important to be clear when we’re talking about environmental science. The fact is that many people still don’t feel a lot of urgency about the state of our planet. Some people still deny that human beings are contributing to climate change at all. When we share incorrect information, we’re not furthering our cause. So let’s take the time to be clear, and get it right. Our future is at stake, we need to be on our game.

Whether you’re working to reduce your own carbon footprint, composting your kitchen scraps, shopping second-hand, growing a garden, choosing less-toxic personal care products, or marching in a demonstration, your contribution to the health of our planet matters. We don’t all have to have the same focus, and we don’t all have to view the same issues as the most pressing. As long as we’re taking the time to learn what’s happening, be clear on the issues and make changes in our lives, we’re on the same team. That’s the important thing – not that we all agree completely, all the time, on how to play the game.

You Might be a Hippie Mama If (Part Two)

I sometimes refer to myself as a hippie mama. It’s a sort of short-hand way to tell you something about who I am. For example, I breastfed my children for over two-and-a-half years each. I visit my local farmers’ market religiously, and I am never without my re-usable shopping bags. I sweetened my firstborn’s first birthday cake with applesauce and molasses, because I didn’t want her to have sugar. I wash my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

I’ve shared some signs that you might be a hippie mama, too, in the past. I thought it might be fun to do it again. Read on, and find out if you, too, share some hippie tendencies.

Close-up of Nan's pillow
As a hippie mama I taught my daughter to embroider and do handcrafts

Signs You Might be a Hippie Mama

1. You have a list of dietary requirements that makes eating away from home a challenge. Bonus points if you gave up a food item on your naturopath, chiropractor or homeopath’s recommendation.

2. You’re still mourning the fact that Mothering no longer publishes magazines. Sob!

3. You know which local health food store has the best price on Dr. Bronner’s.

4. You’ve used coconut oil both in your cooking and as a beauty product.

5. You own several baby carriers, and at least one of them requires that you tie knots in order to secure your child. Bonus points if you’ve ever offered (or been tempted to offer) to help a stranger with their sling while out in public.

6. You have strong opinions on what eggs, milk and meat you will eat, based on how the animals that produced them were treated.

7. Your birth plan involved water in some way, shape or form.

8. Your homemade hummus is widely recognized as the best in your circle of friends.

9. You’ve breastfed a child who was old enough to negotiate with you over where you would sit, which side they would have and how long they would nurse for. Or, you’ve breastfed two children at the same time, and they weren’t twins.

10. You’ve sold handmade goods at craft fairs, through Etsy or elsewhere.

11. You bought your son a doll as soon as you found out it was a boy.

12. You either had your placenta encapsulated and consumed it for the health benefits, or actively considered doing so.

What about you? Are there any signs of hippie mama-hood that you would add? Please share!

Repost: Feminist / Mother

Two years ago today, I was thinking about combining feminism and motherhood. Today, I’m sharing those thoughts with you again.

Me and my monkeys
This is me, combining feminism and motherhood

I have always considered myself a feminist. In school a lot of my friends didn’t – they regarded feminism as sort of passe, a relic of another time. I believed that everyone should have the same opportunities and freedoms, regardless of gender. And I thought that believing that made me a feminist. I still do think that believing that makes me a feminist, actually.

I’m not sure that much of my life has been dictated by my feminism. I haven’t marched or published a feminist zine or anything like that. But in my own way, I have expressed my desire to make a world that is more equitable for everyone. I have exercised my choices in the way that best worked for me, and done my best to support other women who were doing the same thing. And I recognize that many other women before me fought so that I could have the choices that I do.

My feminism became much less complacent when I had children. Suddenly, gender issues played a much bigger role in my daily life. My decisions became much harder and more complex, and my time and resources became much more limited. I had to choose where I invested my time more carefully and deliberately. I had to consider the impact of my decisions on my children. And other people suddenly had a whole lot more opinions about what I did.

If I worked, I was a bad mother, and even still my job commitment was viewed as suspect. If I didn’t work, then I was setting back the cause and wasting my education. If I took on too many obligations, I was failing myself and not setting appropriate boundaries. So I decided that there was really only one thing to do – please myself. I am not willing to live in a way that doesn’t work for me in order to please others or fulfill an externally-assigned role. I do consider the impact of my choices, and the statement they make. But I place equal weight on my own needs, and the needs of my family.

Having children didn’t make me less of a feminist. In fact, it made me more equality-minded and more concerned about the legacy I am leaving. But that legacy is now much more personal to me. It is no longer about hand-waving arguments and intellectual discourse. Instead, it is about the way that my daughter and son look at me, and at each other, based on the life that I lead. It is about what my grandchildren (should I have them) will think of me and learn from me, good and bad. It is about making it that far with my sanity intact.

Feminism is very much about choice. It is about protecting our rights to make up our own minds, it is about making up our own minds, and it about honouring the choices that others make. As long as our choices do not intrude on others’ lives, or step on someone else’s rights, they remain ours alone to make. If I decide to stay at home, or work at home, or work outside the home, or participate in an off-the-grid cashless community, these are my choices to make. They are also your choices to make, and we can make different ones and that’s totally cool. We can also change our mind and switch up our choices. Still cool.

In the world I live in, there are not a whole lot of great, affordable childcare options. In the world I live in, women don’t always have access to much maternity leave, and when they receive it, they may not be able to afford to take it. In the world I live in, sometimes your current career isn’t working and you need a change. In the world I live in, people get laid off or fall ill or have to move across the country. Life happens, and we have to deal with it. Working to create better support systems is a feminist thing to do, and it is a necessary response to the difficulties we face. But until the day those support systems are in place, making compromises and structuring your world as best you can is also a feminist thing to do.

I am a feminist and I am a mother. I believe that I can be both. And I believe I have the right to choose to be both in the best way I can, right now. I hope that, one day, the world does a better job of affording this right to all mothers.

Tattling: A Love-Hate Relationship

Prologue: I was almost entirely finished this post when I was called away briefly to deal with something. The moment I got out of my computer chair, my almost-four-year-old Jacob ran over and closed my browser window. The whole post was lost, because I did not heed the excellent advice save early, save often that we’re all given when working with computers. This has led to much frustration on my part. It also ended up being an excellent object lesson for my post about tattling, and how sometimes you actually wish you had gotten a heads-up.

When my firstborn Hannah was one year old I read Barbara Coloroso’s excellent parenting book Kids are Worth It!: Giving your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline. One of the things I took note of from the book was Coloroso’s discussion of tattling. She had a handy rule of thumb: tattling is when you’re getting another kid in trouble (bad) and telling is when you’re getting another kid out of trouble (good). This seemed very logical to me, and I planned to teach it to my own children when they were old enough to understand it.

Some six years later, though, with two kids of my own I have to say that while I still love a lot of what Barbara Coloroso has to say, I think this rule is a vast oversimplification of the daily reality of tattling that I’m living. I cannot, with a straight face, tell my kids not to tattle. Tattling comes in handy way too often for that. Plus, there are a whole lot of situations that just aren’t covered by the in trouble / out of trouble rule.

Playing on the courthouse steps
No one’s tattling here

Tattling: Not so Clear-Cut

Here are just a few examples of situations I encounter as a parent that fall into what I consider a tattling gray area:

  • My son Jacob is playing around in my garden. Is he in danger? None whatsoever. Are my plants in danger? Absolutely – and some of them are probably already dead.
  • My daughter Hannah is playing with her friend, and her friend has found some cherries I was saving to make ice cream. If the friend eats them my ice cream plans are in peril, but no one is in danger.
  • Both of my kids have broken a major house rule – like, say, they’ve started physically fighting with each other – and now they want to tell me about it. But at this point, no one’s actually hitting each other anymore.

The truth is that, as a parent, I find that tattling can sometimes come in handy. My daughter Hannah is seven, which means that she’s far too young to supervise a younger child. However, she’s more than old enough to tattle. I know that if her brother’s up to something he shouldn’t be, like playing around in my garden, she’ll be only too eager to come and report on it. This gives me a certain peace of mind when my kids are playing somewhere out of my direct line of sight. Would my daughter know what to do in an emergency? No, but she’d certainly come and tell me about it. And as Jacob approaches his fourth birthday, he’s more and more inclined to report on his sister, as well.

Eating ice cream at  Lynden Chocolate
Sometimes I think they’re conspiring against me

It’s also not the case that I only want to hear about situations where one of my kids is in actual physical trouble. I want to hear about situations where my property is in danger, where some foodstuff of other is being dumped all over the kitchen floor, where my tomato plants are being trampled or where someone has decided to play around in the kitty litter. There are a whole host of things I’ve encountered as a parent that probably lean in the direction of tattling, but that I tacitly encourage. At this point, I can’t tell my kids not to tattle without coming across as a huge hypocrite.

At the same time, sometimes the tattling gets to me. The constant, “Mom! Mom! Mom! I have to tell you something! Mom! Mom!” can grate on a person. Plus, I find that I often get called in to deal with situations I know my kids can handle themselves. I don’t want to spend my life playing the bad cop, or helping a kid get their way just because they were the first one to come running to me with a story of how very wronged they are. Tattling is not a universally good thing, and once you’ve allowed it to happen most kids aren’t going to spend a lot of time considering whether this is something that they should be sharing or not.

I want to let my children learn how to navigate the world under their own steam, and solve their own problems. But the truth is that they’re not there yet, and this is why they have parents. Tattling can be a sign that they need help in figuring out how to navigate a sticky situation. Sometimes I send the tattling child back to handle it themselves, and sometimes I see the need and step in. And sometimes I just can’t take one more mess on my floor, and I’m grateful if someone tells me before it happens so that I can put a stop to it.

I don’t know if I’m setting my kids up for a lifetime of tattling. What I do know is that I’m doing the best I can, and that parenting is a messy and complicated business. I just don’t always know the best way to respond, and I sometimes welcome tattling. What do you think? Do you find tattling helpful or harmful? And do you really think that simple rules work in parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Podcast: Shanna Katz on Sexuality, Feminism and Body Positivity

I’m normally fairly conservative about what I post on this blog, because I use my real name and I know that anybody could be reading it. What’s more, I know that my grandmother does read it. If you’re a member of my immediate family, though, you may want to take a pass on today’s podcast. In fact, you may want to stop reading right now, because today I’m interviewing Board Certified Sexologist Shanna Katz, and we’re going to be having a frank discussion about sexuality. Podcast Shanna Katz Feminism and Sexuality

Photo Credit: Pink and White Productions

I get a fair number of PR emails in my inbox. I used to respond to each and every one, but as the volume has risen, I find myself deleting many of them unread. However, when you get a PR email with a, shall we say, spicy subject line, well, you click on that email. And when you follow a link to an author’s website and see a photo of her holding a plush vulva puppet, if you’re me you can’t resist inviting her on your podcast. This is how I came to find myself speaking to Shanna Katz in all her awesomeness.

I had a frank discussion with Shanna about sexuality, feminism and body positivity. How do mainstream representations of sex and sexuality reflect on gender dynamics and the way we view women? Are adult films demeaning and oppressive to women? And how can we move past the negative feelings we have about our bodies and embrace ourselves as we are? Shanna answers all these questions and more. Plus she gives some great tips for improving your own sex life.

My podcast with Shanna Katz is not what you would call family-friendly, so if you have kids within earshot and you’re not up to answering some hard questions, you may want to save this one for later. But if you’d like to hear a smart, funny, feminist sexologist discuss how to love and enjoy your body, listen to our conversation here:

Next week on the podcast I’m going to be switching things up and re-broadcasting an interview I did with Natalie Angell, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Shanti Uganda. If you’re a birth junkie, or you’d like to hear how one small non-profit is helping women in Uganda, you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute!

Ice Cream: The Pinnacle of Food Preservation

I am far from a strict locavore, but I do a lot of local eating, especially at this time of year. In fact, doing more local eating is my One Green Thing for July. In my quest to reduce my food miles I grow a garden, I belong to a local CSA program, I shop at my farmers’ market and I eat seasonally. I also preserve the harvest when it comes in. Each year I freeze, can and dry food to eat all year long.

While I enjoy all of the foods that I preserve, there’s one item that trumps them all, and that’s ice cream. In my mind homemade ice cream using local milk, cream and fruit is the height of local eating. If you ignore the sugar, it’s pretty much a health food, packed full of fresh berries (antioxidants!) and dairy (calcium!). While strawberry ice cream is probably the most classic flavour involving fruit I’ve also made raspberry, cherry (tip: get a cherry pitter) and blackberry ice cream with great results.

Homemade raspberry ice cream

To make my own homemade fruit ice cream I started with a generic strawberry ice cream recipe and tweaked it to suit my tastes. The result is an all-purpose formula that you can use with pretty much any kind of fruit. Once you’ve got it in your freezer it should last you for several months. So if you have a bumper crop of strawberries, make a couple of batches of ice cream and enjoy it all summer long. And if you need something to bring to a summer BBQ or pot luck, you can’t go wrong with a frozen dessert.

If you’d like to make your own ice cream this summer, I’m sharing my all-purpose recipe.

Blackberry ice cream

Amber’s All Purpose Fruit Ice Cream Recipe

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

3 cups fruit
1 1/4 – 1 3/4 cups sugar, to taste (the more tart the fruit, the more sugar I use)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Wash your fruit, and slice it if required (I don’t slice raspberries or blackberries, I do slice cherries and strawberries). Add the sugar and stir well, then let it sit for 20 minutes. This will draw out the juices, and allow the sugar to dissolve nicely. Once the fruit and sugar have had a chance to sit together and make friends, mash it or run it quickly through a blender or food processor. Add the milk, cream and vanilla, stir well, and freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

Do you preserve any food? What’s your favourite method?

I was inspired to write this post by Abbie of Farmer’s Daughter, who is hosting this month’s Green Moms Carnival on food independence. If you want lots of other ideas for local eating, visit her site on July 17.

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