Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dealing with Debt

Well, now for a truly taboo topic.... money and debt. Given the state of world economies, and the fact that everything is connected, it is probably exactly the right time... the micro and the macro and all that.

Money might seem like an unlikely entry on the theme of art-science-spirit, but then again what facets of our lives are truly separate from financial concerns? There is the ascetic concept  of removing oneself from indulgence, but the truth is: unless we are debt-free it is not possible to free ourselves from our material trappings. Authors, from Charles Long ("Living Without a Salary") to Marianne Williamson agree, and are quite forthright on the matter: attaining material freedom and spiritual enlightenment cannot come without also meeting our financial obligations. (Naturally, we also want to avoid succumbing to poverty consciousness, see Julia Cameron and others).


I can tell you from personal experience that debt is no laughing matter. My debts steadily increased from the time I first relied on student loans at age 17, to the crisis point following a divorce in my 30's during which I relied on credit cards for my survival for several years. The low point included every possible survival strategy, from trying to work two jobs, to trying to pawn my jewellery, to relying on payday loans and juggling credit cards - signing up for new ones to help pay for the debts I'd already accumulated. When I finally started taking steps designed to get it under control, I was still too stubborn to get "real" help, instead trying to consolidate my loans through lines of credit and a loan from Citifinancial (please, never do this!). It wasn't until I finally reached the breaking point of going for credit counselling that I realized the error of my ways. The interest charges on all the forms of credit I had maxed out meant that even though I was paying about $1000 a month, my payments were going ONLY TOWARDS INTEREST. My debts were going nowhere! A truly sickening realization, and an experience I truly do not recommend to anyone.

How did I turn it around? I took a leap of faith, quit my low-paying retail job and applied for office work through a temp agency. My first assignment turned into a full-time gig and I have now been with the same company for more than 5 years. Although I wish I had done it much sooner, I also went for credit counselling from an accredited agency. I allowed them to take over my debt payments - I pay them $956 a month, and they pay all of my creditors. Like the ads say: no more harassing phone calls or letters. The agency takes $50 a month as an administration fee, but it was well worth it, at least for the first few years - just to reduce the stress of dealing with everything myself.

I've recently written a letter to the Government of Canada recommending that they consider a tax break for individuals undergoing debt management programs, as it is ridiculously hard to get ahead even now. With about one third of my take-home pay going to debts, my rising income means I also pay more taxes, and don't qualify for relief on things like healthcare. Even when I get a bonus cheque, a huge percentage goes to taxes, making it hard to save enough money for a vacation, let alone home ownership or a car. I often feel like a criminal, "paying for my past." My sins: claiming my "right" to education, years of underemployment, and a divorce. Meanwhile what kind of perks are inmates receiving in prison? I don't like to sound bitter, truly, but the ongoing struggle does wear one down.

In the midst of it all, I have created my website Although I touch on finances briefly in my lifestyle (work and play) section, the website focuses on a wide variety of products and services that create positive change in the world. Natural, organic, fair trade, cruelty-free, eco-friendly.... although I am not getting rich promoting these things, it gives me something to feel good about. On a good month, my website pays for itself, and always gives me something creative and positive to work on.

I would love to hear from some of you about your struggles, and what you are doing to make things better. Let's support one another, share ideas, and create change for ourselves and the world. Onwards and Upwards! And best wishes for a joyous holiday season, and happy new year :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Natural & Organic Anti-Aging Skin Care Online

If you're going to do it, why not do it right? Anti-Aging is big business, but it is possible to fight those fine lines and wrinkles using healthier products, while supporting companies that do less harm to the environment. Let your consumer dollars promote more than just the giant corporations' advertising budgets! Our options in natural and organic skin care have grown exponentially over the last decade or so.

My favourite online Canadian drugstore features almost 80 products in the category of "Green & Natural" Anti-Aging products alone (further broken down into Organic, Canadian, Vegan and Gluten-Free choices). It contains all the serums, night creams, and cleansers that you would expect - and then some! You'll find the "big names" in natural skincare (including Avalon, Aubrey, Dr. Hauschka) as well as some that are less familiar, including Canadian brands Ayu, Cocoon Apothecary, and worldBELIEVE.

It is vital to remember that the health and beauty products we use have wide-ranging effects, from how they are absorbed into our own bodies, to the way they eventually seep into our environment (the micro and the macro). Then there is the packaging used, the social causes supported (or not), and so on. Our choices as consumers make a bigger difference than we realize in the big picture.

I was reading the other day that Canadians are not embracing the choices available through online shopping - but isn't that a shame? What easier way to make informed decisions than online, where we can read product descriptions, view categories, compare prices, and look at product reviews all in one place? Why not take advantage of the wider selection available and support causes and companies we believe in?

For more on ethical online shopping, alternative health and wellness, and great gift ideas, please visit my website: - and have a great day :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gluten-Free Banana Bread

Gluten-free Banana Bread

1/2 cup organic coconut oil
1/4 cup organic honey
2 eggs
3 medium bananas

1 cup organic spelt flour
1/2 cup organic brown rice flour
1/2  cup tapioca flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 dash all-natural alcohol-free vanilla flavour (fair trade)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
(don't forget to grease loaf pan)

Combine oil and honey, then add eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Add mashed bananas and vanilla flavour.

In second bowl, stir flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to banana mixture stirring just to moisten. Bake in 350 degree oven for about an hour, until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool. Enjoy!

* note: baking powders may contain wheat. If you are allergic to gluten, look for a wheat-free variety, or look up ways to make your own (e.g. using baking soda, tapioca starch and cream of tartar - from the All Natural Allergy Cookbook by Jeanne Marie Martin).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Going Gray...

Should I, or shouldn't I... that is the question... No, I am not referring to the erotic novels currently gaining such popularity (Shades of...); but rather, the age-old question (at least for women of the last several generations): when is it time to give in and embrace my gray(ing) hair?

Let me level with you friends: this December 2012, 1 of 2 things is going to happen: either the world will end, or I will (gasp) turn 40!

Believe me, the irony of the situation is not wasted. I no longer recall at what age I realized this particular reality, but I was probably already dying my hair. I plucked my first few snow-white hairs around age 16 with bemusement; and allowed my prominent streak to grow in while still in my 20's. It was all fun and games until, in my early 30's, I found myself going through a divorce and all the changes that come with it (plus an acceleration in gray hairs) and I suddenly wanted to reclaim some of that youthfulness wasted on my younger self.

Several years later, here we are: the battle with the roots still going strong. Meanwhile, I have developed my website ( and changed my consumer habits to focus on natural, organic products wherever possible. Unfortunately, my hair colour remains the final frontier... while I do use alternative methods of prolonging the time between colouring, my hair grows so quickly that I typically resort to buying whatever hair dye is on sale to get the illusion back on track; to buy me a little more time...

I often wish I'd maintained that "stubborn streak" at least; the first to show up after each dye job, taunting me and reminding of the big b-day on the horizon. What's a girl to do? I have tried to enjoy the journey a bit at least, gradually introducing warmer shades to my typically dark ash brown locks... However, when my most recent root touch-up resulted in a darker shade than I had intended, it led to some interesting discussions at work. Why not go jet-black (it could be intriguing)? Or, as one friend suggested: be even more dramatic and go white! Having fought with these roots for a number of years now, this latter suggestion actually got me thinking, but I didn't know what such a process would even look like. So I did some research! Well, would you believe, going gray is almost considered a trend as of late? From actresses to supermodels; books, blogs and magazine articles - there is plenty of information out there on how to do it (and who else is doing it too)!

Of course, when considering any radical change in hair colour, it is advisable to consult with a professional. However, being an avid do-it-yourselfer, I've "naturally" decided to experiment on my own for a bit, at least to start. How hard can it be to start bleaching out the main gray streak, assess the results, and go from there? The answer to this question: it depends. How tolerant will I be of the different stages required, of the sometimes strange shades that result? And how much hair do I have to "comb over" and cover up these awkward instances? For the time being, I have enough of both (the patience and the hair) to persevere with the experiment. We'll see how it goes!

For more on authentic lifestyle choices, healthier products and unique gift ideas please do visit my website: Or stay tuned here for further updates! :)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Living With Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain is one of those things you cannot explain to people who have not experienced it (or witnessed it daily in the lives of loved ones). It becomes a lifestyle, in some cases a lifetime of appointments with experts, experimenting with potential `cures` and making modifications when it is just too difficult to live `normally.` ``What`s wrong with me?`` can become the overwhelming focus of your existence. For myself, more than 20 years of headaches, body pain and fatigue have become a sometimes depressing reality. I`ve gone through many cycles of despair, acceptance, and renewed determination to look for answers.
In some ways the struggle has prompted me to make positive lifestyle changes. I`ve become increasingly aware that, while we cannot control everything - there ARE things we can do to at least attempt to help ourselves.

For myself, this has included switching to organic foods, as well as health and beauty products, wherever possible. It just makes sense to me that if my health is already ailing, it can`t be good to bombard my system with chemicals, pesticides, and artificial ingredients. This is a choice I can make for my own health, but also for the environment (it is always good to remember we are part of something larger).

As always, lifestyle is key. No matter how many appointments we make it to and experts we consult with, it is our daily activity that is going to make the biggest difference. Adequate rest, exercise, nutrition, and hydration create the basis of good health - for everyone. From there we can work on creating our own health `program` and work on our particular challenges.

It can take a lot of ``digging`` to learn about the underlying causes of pain and illness. There is seldom only one contributing factor (as tempting as it is to seek that one magic cure!), and it is to our benefit to develop a holistic understanding of our health; to see all aspects of our mind, body and spirit as being related and interdependent. I highly recommend doing a lot of reading, and consulting with several alternative health practitioners in order to develop this understanding. Unfortunately, in my experience, the mainstream medical system is not likely to be very helpful in this pursuit. Some of the health challenges I have investigated include:

chronic fatigue syndrome
sleep apnea
HSP (Highly Sensitive Personality)
food sensitivities

Using products and services including:
massage therapy
herbal remedies
special diets
dental appliances

An area I have typically neglected is physical exercise. When you are constantly exhausted and in pain, it seems counterintuitive to push yourself to get active, when all you want to do is rest. However, I have proven to myself on several occasions that this is indeed a necessary component of recovery. At some point I took a break from normal life and social stresses by going to work overnight in a warehouse, where I was physically active stocking shelves and moving product for the duration of every shift. To my surprise, I became stronger and my warm muscles provided some relief. Recently I`ve decided to take action again, and invested in a set of Zumba dvd`s. Being naturally averse to sports and exercise classes, I have come across something I can do at home, and so far it is working. I`m enjoying it so much, I haven`t even tried all the different workouts yet. And, I`m learning some dance steps - a skill I have always wished to learn.

Even now, it is a work in progress. Some things change over time, while others are stubbornly persistent. However, I have to believe that the answers are out there - we just have to keep looking.

All of these topics and more are explored further on my website:, as well as my other blog postings. Thank you for visiting!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Adventures in Online Shopping

My adventures in online shopping have been almost entirely positive. I have purchased cd's, books, beverages, clothing, shoes, organic food, herbal supplements, baby gifts, fair trade items, natural bath products, cruelty-free cosmetics, electronics, and the list goes on - almost always without a glitch! Online shopping is perfect for someone like me, who gets overwhelmed being out in the world too much, likes to take a little time to weigh my decisions, or sometimes know exactly what I want but do not want to spend a lot of time running around looking for it. Comparison shopping for a better price, or checking out customer reviews is as easy as the click of a button.

Here are a few things I have learned about being a savvy online shopper:

- If you are rarely ever home during the day, it is better to seek out online retailers that offer shipping by postal service (rather than courier)
- If you are shopping outside your own country, be prepared for the occasional unexpected expense (believe it or not, the biggest surprise I've had in this category came while importing some diet soda from the States for a diabetic friend! It was a gift, so I was willing to pay - but beware duty and taxes on even low-cost items!)
- Do read carefully, and remember what it is you are trying to find (I once got distracted while looking for a facial brush - one item was out of stock so I looked at some related items, but ended up buying a full-size body brush by mistake! It didn't look that big in the picture!) ;)
- Do support businesses whose mandates you believe in: your options are widened when shopping online, and it is easier to seek out companies that support fair trade, eco-friendly and cruelty-free practices, use organic ingredients, and so on. I love buying gifts from fair trade websites such as the Hunger Site - and my purchases even donate food to the hungry.

The only time I ever encountered the threat of credit card fraud, it was through a traditional retailer that had decided to broaden itself to including online sales. I received an email notification that my credit card may have been compromised; when I called my bank they advised me just to avoid using the card for awhile. A few years later the retail company went bankrupt - some things you just can't predict.

To reduce the threat of fraud, you may choose to use a credit card with a low credit limit for your online purchases, or use the pre-loaded variety (I've heard that the ones you can buy anywhere are not always accepted online - but you can also get these through your bank - I have used mine without difficulty)

If you want to purchase through an American website but they do not ship to Canada, there is a service called (and probably others) that offer parcel-forwarding services - I have not tried this, but have seen it recommended on websites where I've considered making a purchase.

For my recommendations on where to shop, plus tips on authentic living and making the world a better place, please visit my website

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Creative Gift Ideas

Pink Bud Necklace
Pink Bud Necklace by artsciencespirit
Design your own photo necklace online at Zazzle.

Customizing your party invitations, bridal party gifts, and thank you notes is a fun way to incorporate a theme into your special occasions. Websites such as Zazzle make it easy to do, and give you the choice to either support the work of independent artists, or create your own designs.

Simple Things Cards
Simple Things Cards by artsciencespirit
View other Shoe Cards

I theme I personally love is "fairy tales." From tiny ornate shoes reminiscent of Cinderella, to cottage windows, or frogs awaiting the kiss that will return them to their rightful place in the palace, I like to create images that remind us of childhood stories and universal themes. 

Fountain Frog Keychain
Fountain Frog Keychain by artsciencespirit
Create your own photo keychains from Zazzle.

Whether you are hosting a themed event, or just looking for a unique gift idea, why not browse the phenomenal pool of creativity on sites such as Zazzle? Get inspired: the possibilities are endless! :)