Living #BelowTheLine

After getting a bit of negativity out of my system, I’ve decided to focus on gratitude moving forward.

Right as I started to focus on being truly thankful for everything I’ve got, I heard about the Live Below The Line campaign. To raise money and awareness about global issues of poverty, participants pledge to spend only $1.75 per day on food.

I mulled it over for a bit. I hesitated to take part because the start date was just a couple of days away and I hadn’t done any fundraising, research or preparation. I have the added challenge of needing to stick to gluten free items, and most of the suggested low-cost meals contain bread or flour.

But I think this challenge came along at just the right time for me, and at the last minute I decided to jump in. I signed up and chose to fundraise in support of Make Poverty History.

So, it’s Day Two of the five-day challenge and I’m learning some humbling lessons. Here are a couple of them:

When you have little money, fresh food becomes a luxury item.

As a new Ottawa resident, I was interested in finding out what kind of food box programs exist here. Delivery services like Mama Earth Organics are pretty popular in Toronto and I hoped to find something similar here.

I happened to meet someone who volunteers with the Good Food Box program. When I realized I lived right down the street from one of the drop-off locations I decided to try it out. I signed up for a small box.

For $11.50 (including a $1.50 fee for ordering online) I got a load of produce including potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, bananas, oranges, and a few other essentials. They lasted very well and I still have a few carrots and onions left.

Even with the amazing savings I got by purchasing produce through a food box program, I still managed to go over budget on my first #BelowTheLine meal.

Yikes. When I thought about what my simple meal would have cost at regular grocery store prices, I started to realize just how difficult this challenge is.

Small budget, small portions.

I like to think I’m pretty eco-concious, and that I don’t take the food I eat for granted. I like to think I’m pretty thrifty too, and that I don’t waste what I don’t have to.

But to survive on $1.75/day, I’ve had to re-evaluate my portion sizes. When I realized I’d gone over budget on my first meal, I halved it and realized I still had enough left over for at least one more meal.

Soup, veggies & rice.

Soup, veggies & rice. Not bad!

You can follow my progress on my #BelowTheLine fundraising page. Please leave me a message and consider making a small donation to support my efforts.

Do you have any advice on how to maximize your food budget? How do you practice gratitude when simple things in life, like having food to eat, are so easy to take for granted? Please share!


Dear Toronto: A Breakup Letter

Dear Toronto,

This isn’t easy…but I think we both know that things have changed between us.

I know this will come off as negative, but I want you to know that my affection for you is what makes this so hard.

When I first met you, I was a bored teenager.

We would hang out on weekends, cruising the Eaton Centre or wandering Yonge Street before catching a movie. You kindled my love of independent films at the Bloor Cinema and the Cumberland. You introduced me to drag shows at Zelda’s. We had some good times.

It wasn’t until I graduated from university that we really got acquainted.

It was all so exciting. You offered me my first full time job, and an apartment of my own. I was dazzled by the view of the CN Tower while fetching coffee for ad executives.

CN Tower in Toronto

A beautiful day in downtown TO.

I was poor, but I knew that with time and hard work I would prove myself worthy of your respect.

Even in the early days though, I sensed that we weren’t 100% compatible. Sometimes you seemed cold and heartless. You didn’t seem to value the lush green lawns and open spaces I was accustomed to. And you always needed lots of people around you, while I preferred more solitude.

I thought moving closer to High Park would bring me some joy and get me closer to nature, but I soon realized that your idea of “nature” is quite different than mine.

High Park in the spring.

High Park in the spring.

I worked at it. I tried to make things better between us, and I found that with a positive attitude and a strong sense of community, I could create my own happiness.

We stuck together. You offered opportunity and I advanced in my career. As I could afford to spend more money on fun things, you never failed to keep me and my friends entertained and well fed.

Years passed and I came to realize that the romance was starting to die. What began as excitement had become frustration.

Our quality time became a circus of crowds, lineups, and noise. We spent hours in sullen silence, stuck in transit.

St. George Station during rush hour on the TTC, Feb 26, 2014. Photo by Karen Clarke.

St. George Station during rush hour on the TTC, Feb 26, 2014. Photo by Karen Clarke.

I started to feel like we weren’t on the same page. Your obsession with condo development got really out of hand. I noticed you were becoming more interested in popularity than in taking care of our basic necessities, and planning for the future. You seemed to thrive on crisis and drama, and there was always a new fiasco around the corner.

Through you I’ve come to know many wonderful and inspiring people too numerous to count. But you’ve also introduced me to some unsavory characters I wish I’d never heard of.

I want to thank you for all of the amazing, wonderful times we had while we’ve been together. There were many, and I won’t soon forget them.

For now, I think some time apart will be good for both of us. I’ve found a different kind of happiness in Ottawa.

Sure, Ottawa is perhaps less dynamic and exciting in some ways, but I’m ready for a little balance in my life. Besides, I grew up in the zombie-like calm of suburbia, and as ambitious as I am, I relish the change of pace.

It’s cold. Yes it is. But when it’s warm there are lots of trees and open green spaces to appreciate.

Drivers leave ridiculously large spaces between the cars on the road, and politely stop to let pedestrians cross.


Lovely Ottawa.

Crime and traffic problems aren’t as dire here, so during the morning news update you’ll hear blazing headlines like, “CAR JUMPED BY DEER,” or “CHILD FALLS DOWN AT LOCAL PLAYGROUND.” It’s absolutely wonderful.

We are still getting to know each other, but Ottawa has earned my affection, and with it, the chance to win my heart.

I’ll be back to check in on you from time to time, Toronto. You will always be my unofficial hometown, and I hope that we can remain friends.

Please take care of yourself.


Getting to know the locals.

Me in Ottawa, getting to know the locals.




Getting Schooled in Graphic Design

While it’s been slightly less exciting than performing daring feats for charity, I’ve completed a few more courses to brush up on my graphic design skills. It’s been great to put some new tools into my digital tool belt and have some creative fun in the process.

As promised, here are some samples from my homework assignments:


A retro vinyl album cover.

A gig poster.

A gig poster (first draft).

An editorial portrait for a magazine. (I turned this into a cheeky jab at my favourite band. I kid Billy because I love.)

An editorial portrait for a magazine. I turned this into a cheeky jab at my favourite band. I kid because I love.

A promotional postcard.

A promotional postcard.

I also started a new blog called The Cheap Housekeep.


It’s a work in progress, but I hope to keep it going. Check it out and let me know what you think of the new project!

Based on my designs, I’ve discovered that I must have a thing for hot pink. I had no idea. Who knew these courses would be so educational?

Rope for Hope – keeping Toronto City Hall exciting!

After I got back from my trip to the UK I got to take part in an incredible experience. I rappelled from the roof of Toronto’s City Hall as part of Rope For Hope to raise money for Make-A-Wish Canada.


Another rappeller who went before me. Piece of cake, right?


Here’s me 30 storeys up hanging over the edge of Toronto City Hall. Wait…what?….AM I COMPLETELY INSANE??


Whew! Back on solid ground and ready for my dorky finish photo.

Unlike some other excitement going on at Toronto City Hall, this spectacle of insanity was for a great cause.  They money we raised is helping grant the wishes of local children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Rope for Hope was an amazing experience. Maybe I’ll do it again next year!

Sigur Rós Sampler

In case you haven’t heard of Sigur Rós, they’re an Icelandic post-rock band that’s been making dreamy, ethereal chill-out music since the late 1990’s. They’re touring North America and Europe through 2013.

The lead singer and Jónsi plays his guitar with a cello bow, and many of the band’s songs are sung in a made-up language called “Hopelandic.” As if that wasn’t weird enough, Sigur Rós recently took their sound in a completely new direction, debuting their DJ skills under the name Triple Nipple at Berlin’s Boiler Room.

I’m not sure what to think of the new DJ dabblings but here are a few sample tracks from the Sigur Rós I know and love.

Sæglópur (“Lost At Sea”)

The kid in this official video has no luck, but I like the happy and energetic mood of this song (while it lasts).

Myrkur (“Darkness”)

Is it me or does this one have kind of an 80’s flavour? The vocals are choirboy angelic and the break at 2:25 is especially spine-tingling.

Gong – Unofficial Video

Here’s a more sombre one. I can’t help but smile though because Jónsi sounds a bit like the secret Icelandic love child of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. I mean that affectionately, of course.

Popplagið (“The Pop Song”) – Unofficial Video

In true post-rock style, this song is 12 minutes long. It starts out as a pretty ok track, but gets truly epic in the second half around 6:00.

After about ten minutes of build-up, you can almost hear the Apocolypse hit. And it’s totally worth the wait.

KT in the UK

In May I took a long overdue trip to England to visit my Brit Bestie and her adorable family in Brighton.

Brighton is wonderful. It’s the gay capital of England, home to more than a few crystal clutching vegan yoga hippie types, and the running joke is that the people there are tolerant of pretty much everything…except eating meat, dairy, gluten, or anything that wasn’t organically grown within 100 km.

Brighton baby, I think I’m in love.

Catching some sun outside the Royal Pavillion

Catching some sun outside the Royal Pavillion

At the Pavillion's Tearoom. How could this scene any better?

At the Pavillion’s Tearoom. How could this scene get any better?



There’s lots for tourists to do in Brighton. Hanging on the pier by the beach, shopping in the Lanes, visiting the Aquarium, dining out, or just relaxing at the pub.

In Brighton, even the Aquarium is really gay.

In Brighton, even the Aquarium is really gay.

I'm even on the menu at Scoop and Crumb!

I’m on the menu at Brighton’s best ice cream shop, the Scoop and Crumb!

By staying with my lovely locals, I was lucky enough to see the less touristy side of Brighton too. For example, I got to tag along to a local beer and music festival. At Glastonwick 2013 I found a lot of fun, friendly activists from Brighton’s music scene rocking out in the countryside. I got my first introduction to “cabaret punk” as well as some very potent local cider and perry.

Luckily I drank enough cider that when this happened, I thought it was absolutely hilarious:

We took a road trip to East Sussex to visit Bodium Castle. It was built in the 14th century and even has a moat. Gorgeous!

A "proper" castle

A “proper” castle

An unexpected find in Bodium's 2nd hand bookstore. These saucy Brits!

An unexpected find in Bodium’s second-hand bookstore. These saucy Brits!

Of course I had to hit London and check some touristy stuff off my list. I rode the London Eye, poked around Harrod’s, and this “Cheeesy Toms” even took a tour through the London Dungeon, a creepy, cheesy, theatrical funhouse ride through the dark side of London’s history.


Harrod’s: Snazzy, posh, lavishly expensive, yet sort of like a Las Vegas casino…

And then there was Paris… PARIS!

Me…in PARIS!

Girl’s trip!! The city is so beautiful and we did a lot of strolling around. I was super excited to visit Versailles and it just about blew my mind. It is indescribably breathtaking. It’s like walking around inside of a painting, and photos simply can’t capture it.


The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles


A tiny fraction of the enormous gardens at Versailles

Needless to say, it was an amazing vacation. I enjoyed quality time with wonderful friends and their superstar kids, plenty of sightseeing, and hot sunny weather for almost the entire 2 weeks I was there.

I think I’ve caught the travel bug, or maybe it’s just a bad case of ants in my pants. Lately I want to do EVERYTHING – try new things, visit new places, and knock things off an ever-expanding bucket list. So far so good!

Fun with Adobe Illustrator: Birds of a Feather

I’ve always been a dabbler in photo editing and graphic design, learning as I go to get the job done. But without any official training it’s hard to even know what skills you’re missing.

So I’ve just wrapped up a course on Adobe Illustrator. The learning was fast and furious and while I learned a lot of new skills in a short time I can see that mastering the software, and the entire Adobe Creative Suite (the industry standard), is an art and skill itself.

Here’s the first assignment I did back at the beginning of the course – a poster to show I learned the basics of making shapes, using the Pathfinder, editing lines, shading, duplicating images, working with layers, etc.


Not bad for a first try I guess. More to come!