Good on you, Rick Mercer!

I’ve never been a huge fan of Newfoundland comedian Rick Mercer. For some reason I don’t enjoy watching someone show off or be a class clown. I guess it’s because I often feel shy and try to avoid the spotlight. I just don’t relate.

But Rick Mercer is wowing me right now. First, there’s the rant he did about the suicide of Jamie Hubley, an openly gay teenager who killed himself last week after facing merciless bullying at his Ottawa high school. Mercer is gay himself and his outrage and outspokenness when talking about Hubley’s suicide and the need to speak out and prevent teen bullying and suicides is inspiring. I hope teens will watch this rant and listen to Mercer’s message.

Mercer also did an excellent interview this morning for CBC’s The Current.

Kudos, Rick. Maybe this could be another career move for you, doing outreach with gay teens.



I’ve been trying to stay positive and on track and focus on my writing.

But every so often things get to me. Over the weekend I overheard a woman who runs her own company say she would never hire anyone older than her. This means if someone is past their early 30s they don’t stand a chance at her company. This woman is someone I admired and thought of as progressive. I don’t think she realized she was overheard.

I know ageism exists on the job front, I just never expected to hear it stated so blatantly. The feisty part of me wants to form a company made up only of people typically discriminated against in the industry (I am purposely not identifying the industry), to show it’s not about age, it’s about whether you can do the job. Incensed as I feel it’s probably better that I focus on my writing and my career and let this go.

Tonight I discovered the wonderful blog of Montreal writer Natalie Karneef. She quotes a friend who is fighting stage 4 ovarian cancer:

“Effort spent wondering whether I am doing the right thing with my life, working in the optimal job, living in the right city, adopting the right lifestyle, going to the right church, doing the right exercise, investing in the right things – all those urban concerns were getting in the way of my life.

Now I know. This is my life now, every day, every minute.”

Inspiring words. And they put things into perspective.

Waste Reduction Week: Indoor Composting Options

It’s a gripe for people living in many parts of Montreal. Unlike most other big Canadian cities (and smaller places like Prince Edward Island), we do not have universal kitchen waste curbside pickup. If you’re an apartment dweller, you may not even try to compost your fruit and vegetable scraps because it’s not obvious how to do it when you don’t have a backyard.

Here are a few options:

1. Vermicomposting. The worms are red wrigglers and no, they don’t escape from the bin. They prefer the dark and will happily move around under a bed of newspaper in a worm bin. The worms don’t actually eat your discarded veggies and fruit. They eat the microorganisms that break down the food. If you care for a worm bin properly you won’t have fruit flies and you end up with amazing compost. But you need to be willing to learn how to manage the bin and you need to be comfortable with putting your hands into the bin and with checking moisture levels. If you’re squeamish about worms or touching wet veggie and fruit scraps, this is not the method for you.

The worm bins I’ve seen most often have been Rubbermaid Roughtotes with holes cut or drilled into the sides or bottom and can be had at your local Eco-quartier (for I think around $40- I am going to check this). They will teach you how to vermicompost. Ferme Pousse-Menu also sells vermicomposters and worms. Prices for a bin with worms start at *$37, taxes included. My bad = I misread. Prices for a small bin start at $115, including taxes. The delivery charge is $24 for a small bin. Worms are $13.

Worm Girl Susan McVety appears to have moved away. It’s too bad. She offered an amazing service where she not only sold worm bins with worms but delivered them and taught people how to manage them.

2. Have someone pick up your compost. Jenn Hardy wrote about her experiences being unaware that compost is not part of the green waste pickup in her neighbourhood. She ended up hiring Compost Montreal – they offer a service where you can have compost picked up for $5 week and you get back finished compost the following spring.

3. Communal composters. The Eco-quartiers know where communal composters are located. They either manage them or work with partners who manage these bins. Because of problems in the past with people putting meat and dairy products into the bins and attracting rats, most community collective composters have a set of rules for participants. You usually have to attend workshops to learn what to put in the bins and you pay a small deposit on a key to access bins. You may also be expected to volunteer to help care for the bins.

bokashi bucket4. Compostgenie. I have a Compostgenie bin and have mixed feelings about it. The company behind Compostgenie, Cooter Muck,  used to be based in NDG but left Montreal for Van Kleek Hill, Ontario. Compostgenie was originally promoted as a composting method – now they say it’s all about preventing smells in compost. The way Compostgenie works is you buy monthly packets of “seeds” (I’ve bought them at the Coop La Maison Verte and seen them at Quincaillerie Monkland) -that contain probiotics, beneficial bacteria. You need a plastic bucket with a lid so no air gets in (mine looks like one of the white plastic buckets you see restaurants using). You need to place a piece of cardboard with holes in it to place at the bottom of the bin (it acts as a false bottom). That way you can drain the liquid compost “tea” to use on plants and keep it separate from the rest of the compost. Each time you add small pieces of veggie and fruit scraps, egg shells or even meat and dairy scraps, you sprinkle the “seeds” over the scraps and they break down to a certain point. If you do this right, you don’t have any smells or mold. To finish the process, the compost has to be buried in soil. So I suppose if you have a balcony or even a place to keep a garbage bag with soil in it you can finish your compost that way.

5. Bokashi is Japanese for “fermented organic matter” and it produces great compost. Compostgenie is a form of this “pickling” method of  composting but you can create your own mix (it includes warm water, molasses, wheat bran and something called EM) for composting. City Farmer has an excellent recipe and instructions. You probably need to have a place outdoors to keep the buckets while the bokashi mixture “cooks.” I’ve never prepared a bokashi recipe so I can’t speak to the experience. Check out the Compost Guy Web site for all sorts of information about bokashi and composting in general.

10 things you can do to make a difference in your community

The Occupy Montreal protest on the weekend, part of a protest movement worldwide against economic inequality, got me thinking about what we can all do to make a difference in our communities. We may not be the one per cent controlling the world’s wealth, economic policies and governments but we are not powerless.

Here are some concrete actions anyone can do to help people in their own community. I live in Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood and some of these examples are very local but I’m sure these ideas can be transplanted fairly easily.

  1. Donate your money or your time to an organization that feeds low income people in your neighbourhood. Many community groups accept monthly donations or have wish lists of needed items. You can even pay for meals-on-wheels plans for seniors and shut-ins who can’t afford it. Volunteer, even it’s only for a few hours a week.
  2. When I worked with tenants in social housing I used to meet seniors who were having trouble paying monthly phone bills. Some even gave up their phone service. If you get a chance to befriend a senior, especially someone who is low income, there are always small things you can do to make their life easier. Buy stamps if they like to send letters, you could even anonymously make payments on their phone bill. Bring them food, if they’re open to that. Or simply offer your time and a listening ear.
  3. Instead of supporting big corporations when you buy household cleaning products, make your own household cleaner. Here’s a recipe for an all-purpose cleaner: 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 tbsp. borax and 1 tbsp. vegetable-based liquid soap (recipe courtesy City of Montreal and Eco-quartier NDG)
  4. As much as possible, buy your produce directly from farmers. Visit your local farmer’s market or sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture basket. You can also get a basket from Lufa Farms or sign up for a Good Food Box. In NDG farmers run a stand every Thursday evening at the Coop La Maison Verte. You can buy local produce at organic food stores and health food stores or even fruit stores. Whatever you do, try to avoid food from mega-farms.
  5. Help Head and Hands save its Street Workers program. Reaching out to youth to give them a listening ear and let them know about community resources was something Head and Hands’ two streetworkers did until funding was cut in August. Letting youth know safe ways of handling peer pressure and issues including sex and drugs is crucial. So is giving them a safe place to talk about living below the poverty line, housing, gangs and relations with the police and the greater community. This week Head and Hands issued a letter that reads in part: “Every year our street workers have worked towards Hepatitis C and HIV prevention by distributing hundreds of clean needles and thousands of condoms. They have also provided education and support to countless youth who otherwise may not have accessed our services. Without the Street Work program, we are no longer able to provide clean needles and crack gear, our emergency food pantry, or metro tickets. Our presence in bars, hotels, metros, group homes, and the streets of NDG has been heavily impacted…”
  6. Support your library’s computer centre. Sure there’s a digital divide and some people don’t own a computer or have Internet access. But if you donate your money or your time to, for instance, the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, you’ll make a difference. The Computer Centre offers computers for rent and “workshops that help young and old master computers, the Internet and digital media.”
  7. Donate your old computer to Techno-Écolo, a community project that teaches youth how to rebuild old computers and gives old computers a second life.
  8. Support local businesses by shopping in your neighbourhood.
  9. Donate your old bicycle to Cyclo Nord-Sud, an organization that sends bicycles to developing countries where they often serve as key means of transportation . In exchange for the bicycle and $15 0r more to cover shipping costs, you receive a charitable tax receipt for the value of the bicycle plus the cash donation and the satisfaction of knowing that old bicycle will help someone get around. A bicycle collection drive takes place this Sunday, Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Coop La Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke St. W
  10. Join or start your own chapter of the Awesome Foundation.

SLAMtastic storytelling

It’s been nearly two weeks since I attended SLAMtastic Storytelling/Contes SLAMtastique at Café Shaika but what a great event.

According to organizer John David Hickey, the Oct. 3 event was a Montreal first.

The idea is based on poetry slams but instead of a poem participants have five minutes to tell a story.

The tellers were a blend of francophones and anglophones. And what a mix of stories. There was everything from a traditional Irish/English fable about a pickpocket family to a story about a bad dating experience, a cautionary tale about ogres, and an original piece about warriors.

Two of the francophone tellers incorporated singing into their storytelling. In one case, the audience was encouraged to sing along (actually mimic the sounds of an owl but anyway), it was sort of a call and response situation.

After each performance, the judges, a mix of audience members chosen by the organizer and friends of the organizer, held up pads of paper with numbers printed on them

Some of the tellers were seasoned tellers known here in Quebec. Others are known in the spoken word community.

Guest performer Ian Ferrier played guitar and sang/spoke tales about slime and bacteria and life in the Gaspé.

In the end Eveline Ménard won the prize – as I recall a pack of chocolate bars. I didn’t quite grasp all of her story but there was one bit: ” C’est dangereux d’être dans la royaume des femmes sans être invité.” Loosely translated: “It’s dangerous to enter the kingdom (queendom) of women without an invite.” Watch out guys!

The next SLAMtastic Storytelling event happens at 7 p.m. at Shaika on Monday Nov. 14th. I’m looking forward to it!

10 things I’m thankful for

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in Montreal this Canadian Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving has got me thinking of everything I’m thankful for. In no particular order:

  1. My son. I have great kid. Smart, kind, fun to be with. I asked him what he’s thankful for. He said: a roof over his head, food on the table, his pet budgies.
  2. My friends and family are truly terrific. They’re all intelligent and interesting and compassionate and fun. Many of my friends are artists, work in service to others or help others on their own time. My parents and sisters and their families are community minded and give of themselves.
  3. OpenFile Montreal. I used to write for Hour until its news section was shut down. OpenFile is all about community powered news -members of the site suggest local  stories that are assigned to journalists. It’s great to work on a story that you know piqued a reader’s curiosity. OpenFile has talented editors. I am learning a lot.
  4. Support from other writers. It’s been said gathering writers together is like herding cats. But writers do stick together. I’m part of a group that spent 15 years fighting for compensation for copyright infringement of freelance-authored work. There were trying times but we never gave up. I’ve met some wonderful people along the way.
  5. I live in NDG so this is biased. We have excellent cafes and restaurants but even better, our neighbourhood has a great sense of community.  People care about the environment here. We have citizens trying to save the Empress Theatre; others fight for green space and against gentrification. We have small businesses and co-op stores supporting community events and organisations and giving back. We have independently run newspapers because we’re the sort of place where many people prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands than go online (or at least people want the option of being able to choose) to get their news, something people were forced to do when our local paper stopped publishing a print edition. We have groups working to ensure NDG’s most vulnerable citizens – low income seniors, families and immigrants have access to quality food, live in safer neighbourhoods and can afford to participate in community activities. Our public schools don’t discriminate based on income and everyone benefits. People will go out of their way for their neighbours. That was especially obvious during the 1998 Ice Storm.
  6. Montreal. This city is both grungy and beautiful. It’s not always easy to earn a great living here. But Montreal is affordable. There is always a lot going on here, especially in terms of arts and culture, and so much is free. We also have entrepreneurs creating cultural events (NDG examples include the CineClub at the Crowley Arts Centre, Slamtastic Storytelling at Shaika).
  7. Montreal’s impressive tech and startup communities. I left journalism to work as a community organizer for over two years. As I’ve transitioned back to journalism I’ve checked out other possibilities for work. I’ve attended Montreal Girl Geek meetings, a WordPress camp, a meetup group about the semantic web, a DrupalCamp and startup drinks gatherings. I also joined Hacks/Hackers Montreal. I’ve met some bright and kind people along the way.
  8. Public transit. People bitch about slow bus service and feeling squeezed into the bus as though they’re in a sardine can. Or they say buses are smelly and people don’t shower enough, the Nova buses lurch too much. Montrealers have no idea how great our public transit service is. Lately I’ve run into people who appear to pity me because I don’t have a car. I live in a densely populated neighbourhood with easy access to buses that take me to the metro. Why would I need a car? I like our buses and metro system. I like the camaraderie on buses especially. Die-hard drivers miss out on all sorts of experiences. For instance, meeting the bus driver on the 80 bus line who sings and gets passengers laughing and singing along with him. I like that people from all walks of life take public transit. There’s always something interesting happening in a neighbourhood, stuff you only notice if you’re walking to the metro or bus stop or bicycling or simply strolling about, not whizzing by in a car.
  9. My community garden plot. I applied in January and thought I’d be waiting years. Received a call at the beginning of June. I feel blessed.
  10. Living in a place where people speak at least two languages. I love that I get to speak French on a regular basis and that by living in Quebec I get to see the world through different lenses all the time. Here in Montreal there are many cultures and it’s easy to travel the world just by getting to know your neighbours.