Fresh Sheets

A portfolio of writing by Tamara Neely.

It takes a village March 9, 2013

Filed under: art,First Nations,lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 04:59

As nine-year-old Alexis Crystal Jim focuses on picking up a brilliant blue bead with her sewing needle and fastening it to a piece of hide, the women several decades older than her chat and laugh and sew. And as the time flies by, the little girl soaks up traditional knowledge and the Southern Tutchone language spoken around her. There, among women supporting her – and supporting each other – she’s also learning about the warm comfort of her kin.2013-02-21 FN sewing lower res

Jim comes with her grandmother to the sewing group, which takes place every Monday and Wednesday at the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) administration building in downtown Whitehorse. The sewing and language class is free to all CAFN members and their families.

Val Fromme is not of First Nation heritage, but her husband is. And so are their children. She feels at home in the sewing circle and over the past few years she has been learning the First Nation style of beadwork.

On Feb. 13 she once again joined the six women at the table for the class she has become so fond of.

“I really like the end product and the process, but I particularly like hanging out with these women and listening to their stories and learning these new techniques of sewing,” Fromme says.

Jim’s grandmother, Bertha Moose, is an instructor of the sewing group, along with Lorraine Allen.

“They give us this space to revitalize the First Nation traditional artwork,” Allen says. She points to Jim, pulling thread through the thick hide. “She’s learning. And she does a good job.”

Jim’s first project was a beaded leather cardholder for bankcards and such. She gave that one to her Mom, now she’s making one for her aunt and her plan is to make another for her grandmother.

“Then I’m going to sell them,” she says. “I like making projects. It’s fun.”

“It’s good to see younger kids sew,” Moose says. “That’s how young we started sewing. I’ve been sewing for a long time. I was taught by my grandmother and my mother.”

Then the knowledge started missing generations.

Tina Grant is of Champagne heritage and her great grandmother used to make beadwork, but she just picked up beading four years ago.

And she’s picked it up in a big way. She has exhausted the local supplies of bead colours and has been ordering them through the internet to get an inspiring new array.

“I’ve invested a lot of money in beads, but I’ve given a lot away as gifts,” she says. “But when I see my work, it gives me more money to buy more beads.”

For Grant beading is not about tapping into the culture of her family, rather, it’s a hypnotic way to pass the time – and create something useful and beautiful.

“It’s just a hobby,” Grant says. “I enjoy it; it relaxes me. I really love sewing and beading and being productive.”

Three years ago the class started with beginners and now the women are not only giving away their work as handsome gifts, but also selling it and taking custom orders.

The free sewing and language class meets every Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the CAFN administration building in downtown Whitehorse.

 Published in What’s Up Yukon on February 21, 2013

Sorting Calgary’s recyclable goods March 26, 2011

Filed under: Environment,lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 05:04

It was a bizarre switch in 2009 to start throwing all of our recycling together in one bin.

Recyclable materials are dumped on the sorting floor of the City of Calgary's material recycling facility (MRF).

After all, many of us once believed that in order for the City of Calgary to recycle, materials had to be separated into plastics, paper, metal and glass.

And after all of this packaging is trucked to the material recovery facility (MRF), the trip a yogurt container takes from your home sink to being made into a lawn chair is actually a fascinating one.

The motivation to recycle comes from the city’s goal to drastically reduce the amount of waste heading to landfills to 20 per cent by 2020. In 2003, when that goal was presented to council, 80 per cent of the waste generated across the city was going to landfill. And a recent study has revealed that last year, waste going to landfill was down to 61 per cent.

To reach the 20 per cent goal by 2020, businesses, schools and construction developments will have to change some of their ways. That group accounts for two-thirds of waste generated in Calgary, and there are no statistics on how much they’re currently recycling.

As the city staff and council contemplate how to divert more garbage from Calgary’s dumps, robotics plug away to prepare our recyclable goods for global markets.


A 30-square-metre building in southeast Calgary, the MRF has a massive system of conveyor belts with spinning discs, air jets, magnets and robotic cameras. Staff at either end of the conveyor system are responsible for quality control, but otherwise the recycling goods are separated by a miraculous feat of physics, engineering and computer programming.

Once the piles of materials on the conveyor belt pass a human checkpoint, robotics take over by distinguishing the physical properties of paper, glass, plastic and metal.

A series of rotating discs allows paper to float over top and carry on, while containers and cans and other such objects fall through open spaces.

Several cameras along the conveyor belt register items passing underneath and trigger air jets to blow the different objects down their respective off-chutes.

These optical sorters are so smart that not only do they recognize the difference between a soup can and a toilet paper roll, but they also classify different types of plastics, from type one through to seven.

Next along the line, a large magnet pulls metal food cans out of the system — except for aluminum cans, which are immune to magnets.

The geniuses behind the robotic system worked with the physical properties of non-ferrous metals such as aluminum to create a different method of separating them. Legg says they use computer-driven equipment to change the magnetic field and create what’s called an “eddy current,” which punts aluminum cans off of the conveyor belt and down their own chute.

At the end of the line, staff find very little that is in the wrong place.

“It works really well,” said Legg. “It’s a neat process, I must say.”

In 2008, the year before the city launched its curbside pickup program for recycled goods, some 41,000 tons of recycled goods was sold to market. Last year, that number had increased to 70,000 tons.

And, for the most part, Calgarians understand which materials can be recycled. “Eight to 10 per cent of the stuff that comes into the MRF are unacceptable items,” says Parnell Legg, a waste diversion specialist for the city. “It’s stuff like household hazardous waste, scrap metal like frying pans and wire hangers.”


Dave Griffiths, Calgary’s director of waste and recycling services, says the large chunk of organic waste has prompted the city to consider a pilot composting pickup program next year.

The city is also turning its attention to the 158,000 apartments, townhouses and condominiums — 35 per cent of all homes — that don’t receive recycling pickup service from the city.

Also on the city’s radar are the two biggest garbage-makers: of the 650,000 tons of waste produced in 2010, one-third came from the industrial, commercial and institutional sector and another one-third came from the construction and demolition sector. The city recently started a recycling pilot program to divert asphalt shingles, drywall and non-treated wood from the dump.

“When you build an average North American home — and this is true in Calgary — that will generate five tons of waste,” says Griffiths. “When people move in, they won’t contribute that much waste for six years.”

Although Calgary is introducing new recycling programs, it certainly has a lot of catching up to do with other Canadian cities. Edmonton, for example, boasts a current diversion rate of 60 per cent with the goal of reaching 90 per cent by the time Calgary assesses its composting pilot program.


Published March 17, 2011 in Fast Forward Weekly.


Entrepreneurs catering to growing ex-pat population

Filed under: lifestyle — Tamara Neely @ 03:08

There is a growing population of United Kingdom expatriates in Okotoks yearning for a taste of home, be it a bag of Bassett’s Jelly Babies or a package of Jammie Dogers.

Fortunately for them several businesses in the foothills are catering to this niche market. Businesses such as Sandul’s Pharmacy in Black Diamond and the newly launched know there are no substitutes for such things as Spotted Dick sponge cake or Worchester flavoured crisps. Similar foods found in Canada simply don’t taste the same leaving the Brits longing for their own version.

“Heinz Baked Beans taste completely different in Canada than in England,” said Tracy Hardy, who left England two years ago to move to Okotoks, “and Cadbury Dairy Milk, the one in England is sweeter.”

Hardy launched the home-based internet shopping website this fall to satisfy the growing expatriate community’s pangs for snacks from the United Kingdom (UK).

“I know there are a lot of us because when you go to the supermarket, every other voice you hear is English,” said Hardy. “I don’t know why we all came here, but we’re either in Okotoks or Cochrane.”

Hardy’s business is a newcomer on what has been a booming business catering to the UK crowd.

Sandul’s Pharmacy in Black Diamond has an aisle dedicated to British goods; Your Dollar Store With More in Okotoks carries British candies; and the Safeway in Okotoks carries Marmite – a brown, yeast-based spread eaten with bread.

Mike Harrison, who has lived in Okotoks through three decades but is originally from Cockney London, said the fact you can buy Marmite at Safeway adds to Okotoks’ charms. As a matter of fact, if he couldn’t get Marmite here, he’d have to move, he said.

“I’m addicted,” he said. “A year or so ago Safeway decided they weren’t going to carry it anymore and there was almost a riot. They were inundated with complaints from Brits.”

People either love Marmite or hate it, Harrison said. For those who love it, discovering a source of Marmite can be life-changing.

Rose Sandul has witnessed that kind of joy.

She has seen expatriates find treats they used to have when they were children, sitting on the Sandul’s Pharmacy shelves in Black Diamond.

When they find such things as Twiglets, which are wheat-based chips with a yeast-extract flavour similar to Marmite, they are overjoyed and often quickly call their friends to tell them about what treasure they have found.

“People are so excited, they get on their cell phones and phone friends and relatives and say, ‘Did you know you can get this here?’” said Sandul. “It’s a really neat feeling and we get to see them month after month as they come to pick up some more.”

Sandul was born in Ireland and moved to Canada at age eight, so she knows first hand what it’s like to yearn for treats from the UK.

But not every treat.

“People like Twiglets and they taste terrible,” said Sandul. “Twiglets have a Marmite taste to them, so people either love them or hate them.

“And pickled walnuts, I’ve opened a jar myself – they look like little brains. I wouldn’t eat them.”

Other treats will satisfy the Brits’ hankerings and appeal to Canadian palates, too. Treats such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar, which tastes significantly different than the version made in Canada.

“I think they put a lot more sugar and a lot more cream in – I think that’s why it tastes so good,” said Sandul.

English expatriate Dean Hudson has noticed the difference and it is a powerful difference. So much so he has spent “a fortune” on having friends and family bring chocolate and other goodies over to Canada when they come to visit.

“My dad comes over here twice per year for three weeks at a time and he leaves his clothes here and fills his suitcase with Galaxy Double Deckers and Cadbury’s Milk Buttons,” said Hudson.

With local businesses catering to his fancy, and family members following the Hudsons to Okotoks, the UK doesn’t hold much of a draw anymore.

“I won’t be going back again,” said Hudson. “There’s nothing there for me, apart from the chocolate. And the soccer.”


Published December 15, 2010 in the Okotoks Western Wheel.