Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween DIY: Harry Potter Great Hall Floating Candles

Tomorrow is Halloween... and I am pumped!

Definitely my favourite holiday of the year, especially the magical, fun and joyful feeling in the air!

This year, finally, we will have at least some trick or treaters and I began to get excited for Halloween in early September. Crazy? Well, thank goodness I got an early start because my favourite decoration this year actually took that long to create.

While looking on Pinterest I decided that I would create something magical, something fantastical for our house and carefully save it in a special "Halloween Box" now that we have a basement. I saw a pin for Harry Potter's Great Hall with floating candles and drooled a little. The link was to a blog post where the author posted pictures of her friend's Great Hall with the description of: "painted sky, painted toilet paper rolls and LED lights". I can totally do that!

Ahem. Right. So... it turns out that the author's friend was holding out- cuz logistically that was some complicated crafting right there.

But guess what? I TOTALLY did it. And... today won the "Nightmare on Mainstreet" CBC spooktacular decoration award! Yay!

I thought perhaps I'd share a tutorial for how the eff I managed to make a Harry Potter floating candle Great Hall- for all you peeps planning for next year!

Harry Potter Great Hall Tutorial:

(sky in the final stages, pre-stars)
1. Making the sky
I really wanted my sky to be gorgeously ethereal and dark with swirls of galaxies and such. Taking an old hemp shower curtain, lining the floor with flattened cardboard boxes underneath, I used water based paints and have at 'er. It took 4-5 one to two hour sessions before I was able to complete it. One afternoon in September I painted outside on the deck as it was so gorgeous out. I painted during the entire three weeks of my death cold. I used the back of the paintbrush to dot out the stars.

In the end, I was pretty pleased with the result. It wasn't AS magical as I would have liked, but it would do (the lack of blue paint really restricted me...).
(Sky with the beginnings of the stars, almost done!)

2. Making the candles
I knew I needed different sized candles, and since we're a no-papertowel family, I had to beg friends to save their paper towel rolls for me. Which yielded 4 paper towels (I was thankful they didn't waste papertowel just for my Great Hall). I also had to paint the candles in stages as I used up toilet paper. Each candle was painted an off white and had to dry.

In the end, 4 paper towel rolls wasn't enough so I taped together three duos of toilet paper rolls and instead of painting glue gunned paper to cover up the seams. I also then had to cut down the paper towel rolls as they just looked weirdly long in comparison to the toilet paper.

All along, as candles dried I was glue gunning LED tea lights to the inside of the toilet paper rolls. This happened over the course of weeks (we needed a lot of toilet paper rolls). I soon realized that the toilet paper was not the same size circumference as the tea lights, which meant there was a gap along one side. Which meant the candles were lopsided in weight. This was important when it came to the logistics of hanging the candles.

3. Attaching the candles to the sky
Closer to Halloween my friends were asking how I was going to hang the candles. Good question. I had this vague idea that I would attach them individually to the sky using white thread. But... this would have been a nightmare of accurately measuring the string and there was no way I was tacking on a zillion thumbtacks into our ceiling.

My friend Heather suggested I "sew" the candles in a loop through the sky, attaching both ends to the candle. Brilliant.

Except... when it came time to actually sew the candles I quickly realized it was going to take HOURS. And it did.
(Candles, sewn and placed!)

First I placed all the candles approximately where I wanted them on the sky (which was on the floor) in a sort of "dry run". Then I took a piece of cardboard and held it up to the ceiling to decide where i wanted the candle bottoms to be. I then put both the toilet paper rolls and the paper towel rolls against the bottom of the cardboard to give me guidelines for measuring the string (shorter string for the paper towel and longer for the toilet paper so the bottoms of all the candles were about at the same height).

Then, using a needle, I thread white string through one side, tied it together with the end, thread it through the sky at about two finger lengths "stitch" (the width of the toilet paper) and back down. This is where it got really tricky since I couldn't just attach it directly across from the first knot since the weight wasn't evenly distributed. That meant I had to guestimate how much I should off shoot the second tie, test run it by holding both strings up, and re-poke another hole if it was lopsided and try again. I then double checked the length against my cardboard measurement before tying it off.

I did this for 21 candles. Thank goodness my friend Heather was there- she did all 7 larger candles. Three hours later we were ready to hang the sucker.

4. Attaching the sky to the ceiling
(in the light of day... a miracle they are still up two days later)

I had no idea why I thought it would be a piece of cake to hang this monstrosity up. With 28 candles, it was no longer simply some fabric, but a heavier Great Hall. Since thumb tacks and nails were out of the question, my friend Diana suggested the heavy duty picture hanging velcro. A trip to Home Depot and we were set (I thought).

Except, that stuff doesn't stick to fabric. As we stood there, four of us, each holding a corner while the candles dangled precariously within our cats' reach, I honestly thought we we'd have to sew each velcro on individually. After three hours of sewing I was ready to give up.

"Do you have a stapler?" BEST SUGGESTION EVER

We stapled the suckers to the fabric.

We then set up the ladder and stuck the velcro up one corner at a time along with some velcro in the middle to decrease sagging. We conceded in the end TWO thumbtacks.

Amazingly, the whole thing has stayed up since Tuesday night.

5. Turning on each light
While gluing the LED lights I realized... how the heck was I going to reach under to turn them on? My fly by the seat of my pants plan? Using some sort of utensil to lever them from underneath. Thankfully Andrew has long fingers so he is able to turn on all the toilet paper sized candles and with some finagling a butter knife works for the longer candles. AND because they are looped through the sky, if they are easily adjustable to be made straight!

6. The end result: RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME.
Ok, so yes it was a phenomenal amount of work. I'd say close to 20hrs worth. But. It just looks so darn cool when it's all lit up. Honestly, these pictures do not even come close to how magical it looks. Was it worth it? Oh yes.

Carefully into the Halloween Box it will go so next year the work:awesome ration will be significantly less...

Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Yoga, Video Games, Environmentalism, Feminism and Online Harassment Matter

Anita Sarkeesian has been living with constant threats of rape, assault, bombing and violence on her person, forcing her in August of this year, after a threat on Twitter shared her home address, to leave her home. Anita Sarkeesian is not a yoga blogger (who knows if she practices yoga), nor an environmental blogger. Anita Sarkeesian is a media critic and creator of Feminist Frequency: a video webseries that explores the representation of women in pop culture narratives- with a focus on sci-fi and the gaming industry. In the past five years she's been speaking out against sexism and tropes in the video gaming industry.

(Damsels in Distress Part 1)

 So why should threats against her person matter to you: the yogi, the environmentalist, my reader whatever your sex, gender, interests or background may be?

The majority of these threats have been from the online community.

(I could add, because she is a human, because it's wrong, because it's a symptom of a larger, more insidious and still relevant social issue... but more personally because you are reading this as a person of the online community at large and as such that places implicit participation whether ignorant or not in this conversation).

As more of our lives are spent living, communicating and interacting online, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify separating our online circles and spaces, staying quiet in the face of harassement or choosing to turn the other way when the very real and serious threats are not pointed directly our way or in our own online neighbourhood.

Threats of violence against women (and yes this includes the very real crime of non consented sharing of nude photos of women) in the online platform affects all of us.

And how we (women) are portrayed in popular culture, I would argue particularly in the gaming and sci-fi industry, an industry that has grown considerably in it's ubiquitousness and general popularity, affects how we (women) are perceived in our every day lives and social structures.

We talk about this often in the online yoga community. Discussions abound in various online spaces how yoga is portrayed by the young, lithe, beautiful and white female body perpetuating body myths and objectification in a philosophy that should, by all rights, be above such sexist and hurtful imagery. (It's all yoga, baby , Carol Horton, to name a few). Speaking out for a respectful, non objectified representation of women in the popular media (or video games) isn't unreasonable in a society where supposedly women hold equal rights under the law.

Nor does speaking out against misogyny warrant a very real barrage and onslaught of violent (and often sexist) threats without any real consequence. As Ms Sarkeesian points out in her TedxWomen talk(above):
"It's not a game. It's an overt display of angry misogyny on a massive scale. It's not just boys being boys, it's not just how the internet works and it's not just going to go away if we ignore it... and whether it's a cyber mob or a handful or hateful comments, the end result is maintaining and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism".
Just the act of being an online voice (via my blog, Twitter and other social media accounts) means that how we use the internet and digital world to communicate affects me, personally and directly. The fact that I am a female voice means that all attacks on those speaking out simply because of their sex and gender is an attack against myself.

So. This is me not staying silent and explicitly supporting the work of all the courageous people who speak out against misogyny and sexism in our digital world. Including Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. (GamerGate).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Two Weeks of Illness and What it Has Taught Me

I am a snivelling, coughing, achy mess and have been for the past 13 days straight. Today I sat on my office floor and coughed until I thought I was going to be sick with tears running down my face as I heaved fruitlessly trying to stop the coughing.

If that sounds dramatic it's because after nearly two weeks and TWO walk-in doctor appointments with almost no change in my symptoms... I feel dramatic.

I have always been a firm believer in not going to the doctor for every little cold. These things have to run their course so I will rest, drink lots of water and tea and eat lots of soup. Oh, and at night I will take Advil cold and sinus- I am not above getting as much sleep as possible.

After my fever climbed to a whopping 102.5 the second day of my cold, I didn't hesitate to go to the walk-in the very next day. Only to be told... to come back if I don't "feel better" in three days. This translated to me not going back until I couldn't hear out of one ear. Which resulted in an ear infection and drops that aren't actually treating the rest of my awful symptoms. Which has resulted in my going BACK to the doctor for a THIRD time (but this time to my family physician who is amazing) tomorrow morning.

All this to say that I have a renewed appreciation of individuals with:
a) Hearing loss. After effectively blocking most sound from my right ear and some in my left, my already damaged hearing was completely shot. Trying to focus at work was painful- I barely heard what others were saying and was constantly saying "pardon me?". I tried to order a coffee that day and misheard the barista twice before I was able to confirm what I had ordered and what I wanted. I had no idea how loudly or softly I was speaking and felt very much adrift. Hearing loss is an invisible difficulty and we forget just how much we take hearing for granted.

b) Living with chronic illness: Now this is definitely only a peak into such a life. But even my (very) brief two weeks of constant aches, pains and illness where I continued to go to work, be social, go to a birthday party, do chores and spend time with my husband- gave me a whole sense of renewed humility to how those with chronic illness or pain must live. Every little thing exhausts me, but I never get enough sleep due to coughing or congestion. I am thankful that, except for this, I am a healthy person and I thank the Goddess for it more so each day.

So. That has been my life recently. Yoga on the backburner, accepting that simply drinking tea and resting isn't always the solution to sickness.

Friday, September 12, 2014

GPB: Halloween DIY Lovin'

It's that time of year.... HALLOWEEN IS COMING!

This year I am SO extra excited... go read about all my DIY nerdiness at the Green Phone Booth- and share your DIY Halloween tips and ideas :)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Update on "Eco" TPE Yoga Mats- Has Anything Changed?

**Caveat: my goal with this post is two pronged: 1- to share information and shed light on greenwashing and misinformation so yogis can make an INFORMED choice and 2- call out businesses that greenwash. I'm a realist: I recognize that there are levels of "eco" in our choices but I take a firm issue with businesses manipulating and purposefully misinforming consumers by greenwashing their products. 

An essential tool for an environmentally conscious yoga would obviously be an environmentally "conscious" yoga mat. Over the past 5 years I've written a bunch of posts on the topic (How "Eco" is your TPE Yoga Mat?" 2009, "TPE Eco Yoga Mat Review" 2011, reviewing a variety of yoga mats and mat materials. My final verdict? Rubber mats sustainably harvested are your best bet (and 99% are latex free), OR even better- mats made with rubber and recycled materials (like this Hugger Mugger mat).

Rubber mats:
Manduka eKo mat
Jade Mat
prAna Revolution Mat and Indigena Mat
Hugger Mugger (recycled!) Mat
Halfmoon Rubber Mat

Unfortunately, rubber mats are pricier and often require more care than other mats... and many companies have caught on (or not) that "TPE" or "thermoplastic elastomer" really isn't a true "eco" solution.

What does "Biodegradable" really mean?

Before we get into what is TPE we need to remember that terms like "biodegradable", "compostable", "degradable" and even "recyclable" aren't standard terms and don't have a lot of meaning. Biodegradable and compostable are often used to mean "capable of decaying through the action of living organisms" (bacteria etc)". That said- this definition could also be used to stretch the meaning of "natural" (ie arsenic is "natural") and sometimes the individual compounds are worse apart then together. Further, there is no time limit to this statement and most municipal composting facilities on this planet won't accept your yoga mat. (similar things could be said for the rubber mat...)

Is Recycling really the solution?
Recyclable is relative. Not all plastics or products can be recycled at all recycling plants. Recycling plastics are a complex process, each recycling cycle results in a lower quality, degraded plastic that has limited recycling lives.

What is a Thermoplastic Elastomer?

From "PolyOne" FAQ on TPE:
Until as recently as 1996, the six primary TPE types could be categorized into two generic classes, block copolymers (styrenics, copolyesters, polyurethanes and polyamides) or thermoplastic/elastomer blends & alloys (thermoplastic polyolefins and thermoplastic vulcanizates).
In addition to these TPEs, two new technologies have emerged. They are the metallocene-catalyzed polyolefin plastomers & elastomers, and reactor-made thermoplastic polyolefin elastomers
So basically, I'm not sure- a shady synthetic rubber. What I can gather from my non-chemist self: Thermoplastic elastomers are cheaper to make: basically a synthetic rubber replacement with all the rubber tensile properties without the cost and yes, a lower energy footprint in production (the only bonus). According to wikipedia (which you can take or leave) they have the "potential" to be recyclable but their rubber flexibility makes them a rare recyclable candidate.
What are "block copolymers- styrenics, copolyesters, polyurethanes, polyamides, metallocene-catalyzed polyolefin plastomers and elastomers and reactor-made thermoplastic polyolefin elastomers" ? 
Essentially different molecular forms of synthetic materials derived from plastics or petrochemicals. 

  • Styrenics: Styrene is produced in large quantities from ethylbenzene; an organic compound made from benzene (a natural aspect of crude oil and one of the elementary petrochemicals) and ethylene that is highly flammable occurring naturally in coal and petroleum, used in the production of petrochemicals and use of ethylbenzenes have contributed to air exposure which in a short time sunlight biodegradation results in chemicals found in smog.
  • Copolyesters: a modification made to polyesters (particularly PET- a type of plastic).
  • Polyurethane: a polymer with organic units with urethane (carbamate) links. Clicking on the chemical rabbit hole you get chemicals involved in production such as isocyanates that can be a health hazard. 
.... and my head is spinning, I give up. 
Which leads us to:
Synthetic Polymers: which is essentially what we are talking about here. This category includes beauties such as PVC, nylon, Teflon and as mentioned above PET plastics. Most are created from petrochemicals and most are non-biodegradable in the "eco" sense of the word: biodegrades into organic, safe compounds (and not "biodegrades into smaller plastic parts of itself" which is often the case). 

OK. Is your head spinning? Yeah me too.

So. "TPE" or "thermoplastic elastomer" is NOT in fact made from natural, safe biodegradable materials. It has "plastic" as part of it's name for goodness sake! It is a less off-gassing, more energy efficient production version of the traditional PVC mats. Kinda like choosing a plastic to-go cup cuz at least it's recyclable instead of the plastic coated paper coffee cups when really you should be bringing your own mug.

Companies are spinning TPE for all they're worth though. For example only ONE of the four major companies are still using "TPE" in their product description:

1. prAna "E.C.O. Yoga Mat": "toxic-free manufacturing process", "biodegradable", PVC Free, Latex Free (why not say Gluten-free? None of which are relevant here), 100% TPE (see above for TPE definition). 
2. Halfmoon Breathable Eco Yoga Mat: Made of SEBS... wait what??? What is this?
SEBS: Brand name: Kraton (like Teflon and Nylon are brand names). Styrenic block copolymers consisting of polysterene and rubber blocks. See definitions of styrenes above, re: plastic. 
Back to Halfmoon eco-spin: "decompostable" (seriously, did they SEE what styrene is made of?? would you want that breaking down anywhere?).
3. Kulae tpECO Yoga Mat: These guys are tricksy, like Halfmoon, indicating it's made from "closed cell technology" which is actually a fancy way to say "foam" or "closed-cell polyurethane foam" which is a category of TPE (see above list) AND I gather why they have the "tp" in "tpECO"... Sneaky sneaky. Again, may not truly be recyclable nor biodegradable. 
4. Manduka LiveON Yoga Mat: Again with the cleverness: made from "PLUSfoam". Which the website looks fancy, but I have no idea what it's made of... only that the company claims it's 100% recyclable. Which is cool... but I'd rather practice on something that is natural from the start. Keep in mind that although better than not, recycling isn't the solution (as every recycle cycle degrades the plastic- plastics cannot be recycled forever).

On top of this, TPE mats do not last as long as rubber mats, often flaking off into bits within a few months or a few years of use (depending on the frequency you practice). This means replacing your mat (either via recycling: issues stated above, or landfill) every few years at least. Reducing consumption is WAY sexier than recycling. Just sayin'.

If you already have a TPE yoga mat- consider making a different choice when (because they don't last forever) you purchase your next yoga mat. The most important part? Greenwashing exists in yoga too- be critical and ask questions!