Experiments In Domesticity

Marriage, Motherhood & Modern Housewifery


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First World Problem?

In the wake of the Bangladeshi garment factory plaza collapse, which killed over 950 people, I have been struggling with guilt and searching (once again) for alternatives to inexpensive, manufactured-in-Asia goods. As anyone who has bought children’s clothing, books, and toys can attest, it is not easy to find consumer goods manufactured in North America and Europe. I was shocked at the amount of made in China merchandise available in France last year.

Because we are so addicted to cheap and to quantity, it is easy to ignore where our goods come from until a thousand people die making our sneakers and it becomes international news. Sometimes we feel momentary outrage when we read about unsafe lead levels in toys manufactured in China, we send our lead-infused Polly Pocket to the landfill, wash our hands and move on to the next must-have. The consumerist memory is brief, unfortunately.

There is the argument that manufacturing our shoddy, cheap goods is providing jobs for women in countries such as Bangladesh. If we stop buying, many families will go hungry. However, until there is a third way (providing those working in manufacturing with proper wages and safe working conditions, and ensuring that the goods manufactured are safe), we are stuck either supporting inhumane working conditions and endangering our own children or abstaining from purchasing anything manufactured in Southeast Asian countries. In the last few years, I have chosen the last option whenever possible. The large, glaring exception has been baby clothing.

It is very difficult to find inexpensive clothing for kids that has been made in North America. I posted awhile back about the search for shoes. I have since ordered a couple pairs from Soft Star Shoes and can attest to their all-round awesomeness. I have also purchased some Robeez lookalikes from Lil Jo’s that are made in Vancouver and are very cute.

Recycling is a good way to keep clothing costs down (beware of used footwear though). I happily accept any and all used clothing that people are willing to give Ladybug. While much of what we get is made in Bangladesh and China, we are not contributing any new funds to the manufacturing world. Plus, we are helping to reuse clothing before it ends up in the landfill. Lately, however, we have begun to exhaust some of our clothing suppliers because our mighty Ladybug is gaining on their children. Plus, it is nice to get something new once in a while. To further complicate life, distribution in the off-line world is often a bit spotty for made in North America clothing but the Internet is your friend in this instance. There is always the American Apparel at your local shopping complex but that store’s owner has a past that may be unethical and one that is most definitely murky.

The North American made kids’ clothing companies below manufacture beautiful, quality goods that come with a reasonable price tag. Part of the whole shift in our thinking needs to be a reduction in quantity – does my 1.5 year old really need 10 dresses? – in favour of quality.
Boské Kids
Small Potatoes
Redfish Kids
Red Thread
Stella Industries
Mini Mioche

This list is by no means exhaustive. I have also discovered lovely handmade goods at local seniors’ centres, and farmer’s markets. I can easily spend hours in the children’s clothing section of Etsy.

What are some of your favourite children’s clothing companies? Paper Doll by ana_ng via Flickr Paper Doll by ana_ng via Flickr


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Burn, Baby, Burn: Cob Oven Construction

Over the weekend, Ladybug & I spent two glorious days on a farm near Morinville. I was learning how to build a cob oven with the capable folks at Shovel & Fork, and Ladybug was learning the joys of spending 8 hours outdoors with chickens, dogs, cats, mud, and no danger of being run over by a latté-crazed SUV-wielder.

Because reading books, looking at pictures and poring over blog posts only gets you so far, I recommend building a cob oven with the help of someone who has done it before. Chad and Kevin, our fearless leaders and all-round capable guys, have each built several cob ovens. Under their guidance, a team of about 18 people managed to put together a beautiful, large oven in 16 hours.

The design we followed is meant to be standing for “300 years”, according to Chad, and looked it as I sized it up at 6:00 pm on Sunday. It is not the simple cob dome you often see but a cob dome atop a monolithic hearth. The hearth has the function of adding permanence and strength to the structure, and raising the oven to the perfect height for fire maintenance and peel-usage without developing a crick in your back.

Our site was chosen in conjunction with the property owner to provide proximity to the kitchen and a great meeting place for outdoor parties. We dug a hole to source the clay for our cob. The hole was back filled with various sizes of gravel to provide drainage and a stable base on which to build the hearth.

We used urbanite, or recycled pieces of concrete, stuck together with cob, to build up the exterior walls of the hearth. The cob was a combination of clay, sand and water, and was mixed by human foot power on a tarp.

Beginnings of a behemoth hearth

Beginnings of a behemoth hearth

Mixing cob

Mixing cob

The interior of the walls was filled with “junk” that we sourced from around the yard, covered with sand, and topped with a thermal layer of empty wine bottles and a final levelling layer of sand.

The exterior of the top of the hearth will be skirted with regular, recycled brick, and the interior fire floor was made with pricey firebrick. According to Kevin, the firebrick were $4.25 each and comprised the major cost of the oven because everything else was salvage.

Laying brick

Laying brick

Once the hearth was in place, construction of the cob dome began. A dowel was cut to the agreed height and placed in the middle of the firebrick floor. Using the dowel as a guide, a dome of sand sprinkled with water, or “sandcastle”, was erected. This was covered in wet newspaper, “papier mâché” style, in order to mitigate the amount of sand that will fall on the first few food items prepared in the oven.

Building a sandcastle

Building a sandcastle

Sand dome

Sand dome

Using a slightly thicker cob, we made bricks by hand. These bricks were used to encase the sandcastle. Another layer of soupier cob with flax straw added was then put over the bricks to provide more insulation. The oven can be finished off with stucco, brick or left as is – this is entirely up to the discerning eye of the owner.

Adding insulation

Adding insulation

Cob with flax straw

Cob with flax straw

While the insulative layer was being added to the dome, a door was cut out using a plywood template. When the dome was complete at the end of the day, the sand and newspaper were scooped out of its interior. The oven will require some sort of roof, again up to the owner, as the cob needs protection from rain and moisture.

Cutting a door

Cutting a door

Break on through ...

Break on through …

Over the week, there will be small fires lit in the oven to cure it. Next weekend, we are having a Mother’s Day pizza party using the oven. I will let you know how it all turns out. . .