Architecture

Background: Interview of architect who designed a home Article shot its Winter 2017 campaign in. 

A dreamy Pacific Northwest beach rental

AN ARCHITECT-DESIGNED GETAWAY

When the words “outdoor shower” and “surfboard storage” appeared in this vacation rental’s description, we knew we’d found a gem. From the moment we set foot into what could only be described as a surfers’ paradise, it was clear we’d found the right spot to shoot our Summer Lookbook.

The rental is a mere three minute walk from the nearby beach — making romantic walks at sunset or lugging a surfboard to catch a wave equally convenient. Recessed amongst lush trees, the cabin looks like it was always meant to be there, despite its ultimately modern appearance.

Susan Scott — one half of award-winning Vancouver-based Scott & Scott Architects — said this is no coincidence.

Since establishing Scott & Scott with her husband David, the pair have integrated a strong consideration for the local environment into their designs.

“Our intention was for this house to settle into the landscape naturally,” she says. “We wanted to embrace the forest and nature and try to blend into it instead of standing out from it.”

The exterior of the 2,700 sq. ft. property is made from locally-sourced cedar shakes. According to Susan, this is to lend a more rustic, varied appearance to the cabin than shingles.

Inside, wall finishings and floors made from British Columbian Douglas fir plywood provide a warm, welcoming space for guests.

Susan, David, and their two daughters live in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Their family home also operates as Scott and Scott’s head office.

A lifelong Pacific Northwesterner, Susan describes properties in the area as “distinct from anywhere else.”

She observes, “Mainly in the way that wood is used in the designs and I think we try our best to incorporate it thoughtfully and in unexpected ways.”

USING REAL MATERIALS

Susan describes that a typical out-of-the-box spec house would emulate those natural materials, but avoid the real thing out of fear that they will warp or change in time.

“Our approach is to allow those materials to age and experience the weather, and appreciate that transformation over time. Often, materials go through an ‘undesirable’ teenage experience — but the beauty often comes out after that. I think it’s that transition time that a lot of people are uncomfortable with,” she says.

A prime example being marble, which Susan says she’s been advised to stay away from due to its fickle, porous nature and tendency to stain and weather.

“Who wants to be perfect forever, anyway?” she jokes. “We love seeing that aging process because it creates a story in the material from a party where wine spilled — it’s life in the material.”

A key design feature — and Susan’s personal favorite — is the home’s covered outdoor area.

“That space was critical,” she says. “In Tofino, it rains so much so we wanted to create a space where you could flow indoors and outdoors. It’s where you can just experience the weather and watch the rain, but be cozy.”

Susan experienced the home’s indoor-outdoor space as intended when construction completed in December 2016,

“Coming into that space, the kids were just all roasting marshmallows … That was exactly what we had envisioned for that space. It was so funny to stay in a house that we had designed and see all the things that we had thought of, actually being used in the way we wanted them to be.”

CREATING THE DREAM VACATION

The home was also Scott and Scott’s first stab at designing a rental property, which proved to be an exciting challenge.

“It really changed how we approached the design of the place,” says Susan.

The home values its outdoor and communal spaces above all for large groups to experience together. Surfing enthusiasts, for instance, can come in from the beach and easily store their board, wash off the salt spray in one of two outdoor showers, and then warm up by the fire — without having to step foot inside the house. For those who hate sweeping up half the beach on your floors — which is to say, everyone — this is a welcome design choice.

ALL IN THE DETAILS

Other thoughtful design features throughout the home make the property even more functional.

For instance, a breezeway — located on the other side of a concrete fireplace — creates an acoustic buffer between the home’s living and sleeping spaces. Outside, a hot tub is a delightful surprise to stumble upon at the end of a meandering rainforest walkway.

Susan feels the demand for architecturally designed vacation rentals is a sign of travellers wanting a more unique, authentic experience

“More people are willing to invest in design and want something a little bit different,” she says. “With the popularity of AirBnB, photos really matter. Having a well-designed home gives you an immediate leg up.”

Unsurprisingly, photographing the home for our Summer Lookbook was a dream.

“I loved seeing the way you guys took the photos,” says Susan. “It was like seeing someone else’s vision coming to life without any preconceived views. It’s interesting how changing out furniture can really change a space.”

Feature appeared online via Article’s company blog Articulate August 10, 2017.

Home Decor

Background: I strategized all content for Article’s blog to be a) inspirational b) educational or c) both. Here, an in-depth and informative look at one of Article’s most popular upholstery materials. 

HOW TO CHOOSE AND CARE FOR LEATHER FURNITURE

MEET THE MATERIAL.

Famous for its buttery feel, amazing durability, easy maintenance, and sticking to your legs in the summer, it’s no wonder leather is one of the most popular upholstery options for furniture.

With so many great options it can be a tough choice deciding what is the best for you.

Luckily, we’ve got every grain, texture, and color you can possibly think of (and some you can’t). All beautiful, but all different. To determine what furniture is right for your home, lifestyle, and taste, this is a comprehensive guide that gets up close and personal with one of our favorite materials.

LET’S START FROM THE START: WHAT’S LEATHER?

Nord Charme Tan Leather Armchair Leather is made from the cured (read: tanned) hides of cattle. Tanning practices vary around the world, but we only work with the best — which is why our hides are tanned and finished in Italy.

As a natural material, leather will often have wrinkles, scars, creases, and color variations. We find that these represent leather’s unique character and appeal — but we also offer options for those who don’t feel the same. We’ll get into those later.

Our articles are for casual lounging with deep, sprung seats and feather-fibre mix cushioning. Not overstuffed, many styles develop a well-loved, vintage appearance. Again, stick with us, we’ll talk all about those too.

WHY REAL LEATHER?

Lana Gray Sheepskin Throw on a Cigar Rawhide Brown leather sofaWe are endlessly inspired by nature and the adventures that await us in it. You can tell by the names we give our products (we love oceans, and trees, and rocks, oh and clouds — a lot) and the materials we make them with. Authenticity is important to us as we strive to make the world a more comfortable and beautiful place. As a result, we believe in using real, natural materials that we carefully select to build an article that will deliver remarkable furniture experiences.

But we also believe in being better — it’s one of our core values. That’s why our leather is sourced from South America only as a byproduct of food production.

We respect those who oppose our views regarding the use of natural materials, but strongly believe they deliver the best performance in the long run for your home. We’re also delighted to offer non-animal-based upholstery options as well as styles that are down-free. Because everyone deserves beautiful furniture, no matter what.

COOL. SO WHAT ABOUT YOUR LEATHER?

Sven Charme Tan leather sofa with a family sitting on itThere’s a lot of confusion about different types of leather (What does aniline mean? Leather has a grain?) and what that means for your life (What will my toddler not destroy once naptime is over? What if I want a really distressed look?).

Don’t worry, we’ve got all the information you need.

GRAIN.

Nirvana Dakota Tan leather sofa And we don’t mean barley or rice. We’re talking about the layers of the hide in our articles.

A full-grain hide is the top layer of a hide that contains all the beautiful, natural variations in tone that real leather is known for. It has unique markings as individual as fingerprints. This includes insect marks, wrinkles, spots, and stretch marks that were developed over the course of that animal’s life. Through age and use, this leather will develop a stunning, warm sheen known as patina. It’s what gives a sofa that comforting, vintage look everyone is after.

Top-grain hides, by contrast, go through a sanding process that buffs out all those natural variations to create a leather that is less varied, but is strong and durable.

ANILINE.

Chocolate Brown leather sectional sofa with pink velvet pillow

Aniline simply refers to the dying process a hide goes through once it has been tanned. We feature two different types of aniline in our collection: full-aniline and semi-aniline.

A full-aniline hide has been carefully dyed so that it retains all the beautiful, natural markings and color variation that is inherent in the hide. Remember the full-grain leather we were talking about before? Full-grain and full-aniline are mutually exclusive terms — a fancy way of saying that you can’t have one without the other. Anytime you see one of these two terms, just know it means all the touchable goodness of a leather hide with all the color variation that goes with it.

Conversely, a semi-aniline hide has a thin layer of wax applied just before the dying process. This is done to make the color more uniformly absorbed. Remember when we talked about top-grain? Top-grain and semi-aniline go hand in hand. Together, they produce a leather that is more consistent and hardy.

NOW THAT YOU’RE A LEATHER EXPERT.

Nord Charme Tan Chair, Echo Oxford Tan Chair, Matrix Oxford Black Chair Let’s break it down a little further. You’re ready for it.

In addition to a rainbow of colors like Tan, Black, Chocolat, Oxblood, Blue, Gray, and beyond, we also have distinct leather types.

This is where your lifestyle and sense of style comes into play. Think about how you plan to use your furniture and the environment it will live in.

Tan leather sofa in an airy living room with a shag rug and mid-century lighting.Will your article be styled alongside mid-century modern accessories that Don Draper would approve of? Or with industrial accents and exposed piping? Or even a cowhide rug and decorative antlers?

Will it live in a formal living room that’s only for when company calls? Or will it be in a bustling family room and needs to act as home office, Netflix Central, and guest bed/occasional napping surface all at once?

A woman and her cat sitting on her Sven Charme Tan Leather Sofa These kinds of questions can determine the furniture that is most uniquely suited to your home. Though there is no “pet-proof” or “child-proof” or even “life-proof” furniture, there are materials that are better suited for different lifestyles.

Let’s learn more about them.

OXFORD LEATHER.

Matrix Oxford Blue SofaOxford is a top-grain, semi-aniline leather with a slightly mottled effect to the finish. The wrinkles and texture of the hide are visible and the texture is semi-matte. If you were taking notes while reading this, check your glossary for “top-grain” and “semi-aniline.”

This is a great option in a home where you know a clumsy moment is inevitable. Imagine slowly watching a dinner plate topple or a drinking glass fall. With Oxford leather, Enrique’s “Hero” will be playing in the background because that extra layer of protective wax will be the savior you need. With it, you’ll have a few more precious seconds to grab a dishrag (or your shirt, we don’t judge) to wipe up that stain. Phew.

Shop Oxford leather.

CHARME LEATHER.

Sven Charme Tan Sofa in a library This one is popular — and for good reason. Charme is a full-grain, full-aniline leather that is highly variable in tone, texture, and natural markings. You’ll find markings as individual as fingerprints, including insect marks, wrinkles, spots, and stretch marks. This leather patinas rather quickly, giving it a beautifully unique finish.

We recommend Charme to pet parents or young families since it is already perfectly imperfect — so any additional scratches from claws or paws or small (but strong) fingernails simply add to the existing character of the hide.

Shop Charme leather.

DAKOTA LEATHER.

For the cowboy/girl/man/woman/child in us all. Dakota is a semi-aniline, top-grain leather and is our most distressed and matte option. The natural markings on the hide are more pronounced than any other leather we offer for a truly varied and vintage appearance. Its beautiful layered coloring is thanks to two dying processes and a good sanding that provides a wonderfully worn effect.

Nirvana Dakota Tan sofa with pillows Despite its aged appearance, it’s one of our most durable and hardworking leathers because of its top-grain status (remember: that means it’s been wax sealed). Which means it’s great if you’re after a rustic-chic look. Playtime and a bit of sofa cushion rough-housing? It’s not Dakota’s first rodeo.

Shop Dakota leather.

RAWHIDE LEATHER.

Living room set up with Cigar Rawhide Brown sofa Rawhide is a thick, full-grain, full-aniline leather (need a vocab refresher yet?) that has us nostalgic for worn-in baseball gloves and the traditional methods of leather production from yore. If you’re only familiar with the first one, we’ll forgive you and can help fill in the blanks. This leather is finished with a paraffin wax, which is how leather used to be finished 50 years ago. It produces an extremely rich finish and a touchably soft surface.

Stone Rawhide Brown Ottoman on a rug This deep brown leather is so sumptuous that it’s easily marked with a fingernail. We find that the scuffs and marks create a wonderful patina in a short amount of time. So for busy families, it’s what you want everyone to be playing with and sitting on to create those beautiful markings even faster.

Shop Rawhide leather.

TAOS LEATHER.

Mello Taos Brown left sectional sofa with coffee tables and rugSimilar in look and feel to Rawhide, Taos is yet another rich, full-grain, full-aniline leather. Subtle character markings are present here for those lusting for that varied, well-loved look. For those who love Oxford’s color consistency, but Charme’s character — Taos is an excellent compromise between the two. Like Rawhide, Taos has a higher-than-usual fat content seal to create a soft surface that will age and patina over time.

Taos’ is best seen in our Mello collection, a modular sectional with endless customizable configurations. Great for rooms with tricky layouts, if you have a lot of square footage to cover, or need furniture with maximum seating options. With its standout color and comfort, Taos is a great way to make a comfortable statement.

Shop Taos leather.

SEDONA LEATHER.

Echo Primo Sedona Brown Sofa with rug, coffee tables, and side tableSedona, a full-grain, full-aniline leather, is for those looking for a more luxurious sofa with an opulent feel. This style is made from European bull hides, unlike the South American cowhides in our other leathers. Bull hide has a thicker, fuller finish and closer grain structure — creating a truly luxe look.

Durable and beautiful, the Sedona would work well in any space but with its elegant nature and sophistication, it would look most at home in a formal living room.

Shop Sedona leather.

Pro Tip: If you need to get a feel for these leathers in person, get in touch. We’ll send you complimentary swatches to help you in the decision-making process.

LEATHER CARE AND MAINTENANCE.

Lounge setup with Triplo Taos Brown sofa and Nimbus White Coffee Table Alright, so you think you’re a leather mastermind now. But you and your guests (and Shania Twain) won’t be impressed very much if you can’t care for your articles for the long haul.

Good leather care starts at day one. Once unboxed, you might notice a gray film on the surface. Remember all that wax and protectants we talked about? That would be it. So don’t worry — the wax will absorb, scuff, and soften into that rich patina we also mentioned a few times.

To keep your leather looking its best, we recommend a wipedown with a conditioner like Otterwax for hydration and shine. Apply once received, and as frequently as you would like afterwards — monthly will more than suffice.

Simple is the key to a cleaning routine you’ll actually stick to. So avoid chemical cleaners, polishes, and detergents. On a weekly basis, simply use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away noticeable stains and use a vacuum attachment to clear up debris and crumbs.

NAILED IT.

Now you’re armed with everything you need to choose what furniture is right for you — and keep it looking good for years to come.

So what are you waiting for? Shop the leather article of your dreams.

Feature appeared online via Article’s company blog Articulate November 20, 2017.

Profile

Background: Interview with artist and influencer Jenny Kiker to align her lush green home decor with Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year (Greenery). 

Living Pattern print is all about balance. White space and a careful mix of paints combine to bring Jenny Kiker’s sun-dappled, tropical world to canvas.

Jenny works and lives out of her home studio in Delray Beach, Florida. Her desk is strategically placed under a window to flood her space with natural light. Her greenery models—palms, rubber plants, monstera, and other tropicals—frame her desk.

Photo: Chelsae Anne

A graduate of the lauded Savannah College of Art and Design, Jenny’s path to success has taken many forms. In 2013, she was a textile designer at a children’s clothing company while also merchandising window displays for Urban Outfitters, and illustrating on the side.

A statement velvet green armchair (the Article Sven in Grass Green) looks perfectly at home amongst Jenny’s plants and artwork. Photo: Chelsae Anne

“I was designing squirrel prints for little girls dresses,” she recalls. “Painting and illustrations were my thing and I felt I wasn’t being used to my fullest. I kind of quit my job ungracefully with no plan and no savings,” she laughs, “I was forced to make a living off of my passion. So I started painting anything and everything. I was drawing insects, animals, even pet portraits for a while.”

In a stroke of serendipity, Jenny’s fiancé came home one day with an armful of plants.

“He said, ‘Here. Why don’t you paint these?’ and that was kind of that,” she says.

That moment kickstarted an obsession that she leveraged into a business and a drive to become “a self-taught botanist.” Her success was accelerated by the timely design trend to incorporate more plant life into the home.

Photo: Jenny Kiker

Pantone naming Greenery as their 2017 Color of the Year was also a boon to Jenny’s business.

“I got so lucky there,” says Jenny—who was approached by Pantone to bring Greenery to life on their feed through a series of Instagram posts that highlighted her work.

Jenny readily embraces the flow between her outdoor and indoor spaces. She describes her own style as “modern tropical mid-century.”

“I love the flow of green inside and outside my space. It makes me feel like I’m outside and so inspires me,” she says.

When selecting pieces for her studio space, Jenny stuck to a neutral palette of camels, creams, whites and incorporated statement green tones with her artwork and her Sven armchair.

Photo: Jenny Kiker

“My studio is a sanctuary and every time I sit here and do my work, I look over at my living room and think, ‘Would I want to put this artwork up in this room?’. I’m essentially creating pieces for the room that I have and using the beauty I surround myself with as a benchmark for the quality of my work,” she says.

The warm tones of a cognac leather sofa ground a space with lots of color. Photo: Jenny Kiker

“I don’t like detail or decorative additions. I love things that are clean, simple, functional — which is part of why I love Article so much. The furniture is very clean and modern but still has a lot of cosiness to it,” says Jenny.

Jenny describes white space as equally important to her work as her signature green plantlife. “I’m all about white, negative space. It’s just as important as a full page of color,” she says. Photo: Chelsae Anne

The most important thing in her studio?

“The light,” she says without hesitation. “It dictated the entire setup of the room. Where my desk is, where other artificial light sources were placed. Everything.”

Video

Background: I strategized all content for Article’s blog to be a) inspirational b) educational or c) both. Here, I coordinated a light-hearted video series to inspire customers on fun things to do with their Article packaging. 

Furniture delivery day — it’s like Christmas. Only better, because there’s no way Santa and his reindeer could fit a 300lb sofa box in his sleigh.

Speaking of that box, once your freshly delivered furniture is unpacked, assembled, and of course thoroughly nap-tested, there’s still the matter of dealing with the packaging it came in. Depending on your order, chances are you’re looking at a fair amount of heavy-duty cardboard pieces. Pieces that were once carefully selected to ensure your furniture arrived to your door safely, but are now taking up precious space in your home.

Luckily, there’s plenty of things you can do to repurpose that packaging to keep the fun of delivery day going. One popular option is the box fort.

Not a cardboard engineer or toy designer? No problem. Thanks to the power of the Internet, we found a couple of Article customers through Instagram who have done the heavy lifting for you.

Important: Before you start custom building cardboard real estate, you should be sure that you love the furniture your boxes once held. If you decide that your new furniture isn’t for you you’ll need the original packaging to take advantage of our 30 day satisfaction guarantee.

A family enjoying a black leather sofa
Jorge and his three-year-old son Matthias plan the design for their Article box fort from the comfort of their Worthington sofa. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Photographer Emmy Lou and animator Jorge Canedo captured the magic of transforming one of their Article boxes into a place to play for their son Matthias. We were thoroughly impressed and got in touch to find out if they’d make another one, documenting the process to help bring out everyone’s inner child. Lucky for us, they said yes.

Once planning for the second box fort was complete, construction took about an hour. Which, with a three-year-old in the mix, included many distractions and pauses for playtime.

See how the whole thing unfolded in the video below, then read on for step-by-step instructions to turn your sofa box into a fort from Jorge, head of construction.

Step-by-step: Building a furniture box fort

1. Analyze your box

A man carefully inspecting an Article cardboard box
Get up close and personal with your Article packaging. It’s strong enough to take it. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Note the box dimensions and ensure that no matter how tall you make it, that your kids (or whoever the box is for, no judgment) can safely enter without head bumps.

2. Cut out all necessary pieces

Jorge cuts into a cardboard box using a reciprocating saw to create pieces for a box fort.
Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Before starting to tape everything together, make sure you have a few key pieces cut and laid out. Jorge says the floor, a piece for the roof, four pieces for the chimney, and some triangular pieces for window ledges (optional) are most important.

If you’d like to get power tools involved, Jorge recommends a reciprocating saw to keep the cuts crisp without damaging or bending the cardboard. But a serrated knife works in a pinch.

3. Create the roof and floor

A father and son work together to create a cardboard box fort
Three-year-olds make the best box fort building assistants. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

For the roof, Jorge used a single piece of cardboard cut to length. This creates a flat top in between the two opening flaps of the box. The floor was cut and attached to the entire bottom structure of the box to provide a clean playing surface. Or, if your box is big enough, you can simply use the bottom flaps for the floor.

4. Cut out openings

Jorge cuts openings into the box fort to create entrances and windows.
A reciprocating saw will give you the power you need to make clean incisions in your sturdy Article packaging. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Once the main portion of the box fort has been assembled, cut out openings for the door and windows. Make sure you draw an outline first to ensure size and straightness when you’re making those final cuts.

A child playing with a completed box fort
Matthias knows to measure before cutting openings. It’s important to have easy entry for playtime. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

5. It’s all in the details

A child plays with dinosaurs on the window ledge of his cardboard box fort.
Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

The creative couple said that they’ve always believed that leftover cardboard boxes are “simply waiting for imagination to take flight.” So flex your creative skills and add personal touches to bring your box fort to the next level.

Emmy Lou suggests, “Window ledges, for sure! Nothing is more awesome than eating a snack and leaning out your box fort while watching the world pass by. And a circle window, because circle windows are the best. Chimneys are also a key component. Where else will your dinosaurs climb on top of the world and roar? ”

A mother and son enjoy playing with a cardboard box fort.
Box fort building is tough work. Stay hydrated. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

This is your opportunity to get creative and over-the-top in the best way. Working drawbridge? Go for it. Monogrammed mailbox? Yes. Doorbell? Sounds great.

6. Have fun with it

Matthias throws his hands in the air in excitement over his Article box fort.
Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Your box fort is a place to have fun. Emmy Lou and Jorge’s favorite part of designing the box fort was having Matthias be involved in not only playing with it but creating it.

“I think creating it was his favorite part. He thinks his toy tools are every bit as real as Daddy’s power tools,” Emmy Lou jokes.

A family enjoys playing with a cardboard box fort. There are awesome details like a chimney, door, and window ledges.
Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Even if it doesn’t come together perfectly, a half-done box fort is more of a place to play than no box fort at all. The goal isn’t perfection, fun and creativity is.

7. Play!

Jorge and Matthias spend some quality time playing inside the box fort. It's big enough for adults!
Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Once your box fort is assembled, it’s time to play! Emmy Lou, Jorge, and Matthias enjoyed epic dinosaur battles, creative coloring time (take note of Matthias’ artful adjustments to our logo), and having a new spot to rendezvous for snacks.

Emmy Lou says, “Jorge’s turned boxes into many different things, including a toy animal fort with a 4′ bridge spanning between a desk and coffee table. However, this was the largest box fort he’s ever attempted, and it perfectly fits a three-year-old. And if you’re willing to squish, it can also fit one dad and one very pregnant mom.”

Matthias draws on the inside of the box fort with permanent marker.
Cardboard is a versatile building material. It’s great to build forts out of and to let out your inner artist on. Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

She adds, “This is the best box strength of any structure we’ve built, by far. The fact that Matthias can climb over and stand on those window ledges without destroying the entire fort speaks for itself .”

And when you’re exhausted from playing in your cool new space, there’s always a comfortable piece of Article furniture not too far away to relax on. Ahh.

Jorge, Emmy Lou, and Matthias all pose excitedly with the fully completed box fort.
Photo: Emmy Lou Virginia

Ready for adventure time? Browse the site and once you’ve placed your order, we’ll deliver your new favorite toy shortly. Along with some furniture.

 

News

Background: Covering breaking hard news and environmental affairs for community newspaper in Fernie, British Columbia. 

Fish death toll increases at Line Creek

Almost two-dozen more fish have been added to the total of deceased aquatic life found at Teck’s Line Creek Operations.

Between Thursday, October 16 and Friday, October 17 an initial 11 fish were found dead in the water treatment facility area at the Teck mine and preparation plant located near Sparwood. Since then, the total has risen to 34.

The facility has been shut down and is not expected to be fully operational again until early 2015, as Teck has taken to decommissioning, restarting and re-commissioning the facility as a precautionary measure.

“We take this incident very seriously and are actively working to determine the cause,” said Nic Milligan, manager of community and Aboriginal affairs in a press release.

Investigation into the cause of death of these fish is still ongoing, though according to Teck, the startup process of the water treatment facility may be related to the incident.

The startup process was recently installed to reduce selenium levels in the water.

Marcia Smith, senior vice president of sustainability and external affairs at Teck, has cited the water treatment facility — a $100 million infrastructure — as part of Teck’s “significant work” to reverse issues caused by selenium levels.

Public concern is rising regarding selenium levels as a result of the nearby Teck plants Fording River and Greenhills Operations, both located northeast of Elkford.

Selenium is an essential trace element necessary for cellular function in many organisms; however excessive amounts may result in toxic effects.

According to a review of Environment Canada’s Teck Coal Environmental Assessment, conducted between 2012-2014, concentrations of selenium found in westslope cutthroat trout fish eggs collected from the Upper Fording River were much higher than the toxic threshold for the species and displayed “classical symptoms of selenium poisoning marked by skeletal and craniofacial deformities.”

These deformities include concave craniums, bent spines, missing gill covers and deformed or missing fins, as seen in photographs of westslope cutthroat trout collected from the Upper Fording River included in the assessment.

The selenium threshold for these creatures, which notes the level at which sensitive species first begin to exhibit symptoms of selenium poisoning, is 10-15 micrograms per gram (dry weight).

Fish eggs collected from the Upper Fording River frequently had concentrations of 60 micrograms per gram (dry weight).

The review was posted on Teck’s website last month and the company has long acknowledged their part in the river pollution problem.

Over the next five years, Teck will be spending $600 million to improve water quality.

“We recognize that water quality in the Elk Valley watershed is a serious challenge that requires action,” said Milligan. “That’s why we have been working in cooperation with provincial and federal governments, First Nations, communities, governments in the U.S. and technical experts to develop an Elk Valley Water Quality Plan that will set out the approach to stabilizing and reversing selenium levels within the Elk Valley.”

Local residents had the opportunity to attend open houses earlier this year to provide their input in the development of the plan. Smith has also stated that Teck will continue to do research in universities across Canada and the U.S. in order to develop new ways to manage the selenium issue.

To read the full report and view photos captured of poisoned westslope cutthroat trout, visit http://www.teckelkvalley.com/res/vpl/documents/_ces_portal_meta/_portal_pages/documents/review_environment_canada.pdf

Appeared in print November 6, 2014 and online at The Free Press.

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Feature

Background: An in-depth human interest piece on a local family and their experience with childhood cancer. 

Fernie mom strings together beads of courage

Lily Earl is four-years-old. She is lively, excitable, loves freezies, and My Little Pony. She also has leukemia.

Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 28-months-old, Lily has endured hundreds of rounds of chemotherapy, lumbar punctures, and visits to hospital rooms.

Lily, enjoying a pudding cup on the couch.
Lily, enjoying a pudding cup on the couch.

Seeing her in her living room, playing with her mom’s iPad and shoveling chocolate pudding into her mouth, you wouldn’t be able to tell that a disease afflicts her.

In November 2012, during a routine check up, doctors in Fernie noticed an abnormality with her blood.

“The doctors called us later that night,” said Sheri Earl, Lily’s mom, “and told us to go to Calgary first thing in the morning and to pack for 10 days.”

The Earls only packed for two, not suspecting that the doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital would tell them that Lily had leukemia.

“The E.R. nurses were bawling when the doctor gave us the news,” said Earl. “They said, ‘We had such high hopes for you guys’.”

Lily was transferred to the oncology department where she spent the next two weeks undergoing bone marrow aspirates and chemotherapy injected into her spine to prevent the leukemia from crossing over into her spinal fluid and central nervous system.

Two weeks spent in Calgary, Lily finally entered remission and the Earls were permitted to return to Fernie.

Since then, Lily takes an oral chemo once a day, another oral chemo consisting of six pills once a week, once a month she gets chemo in her port in Calgary, and once a month she gets a five-day run of steroids orally.

“Think of steroid rage in a toddler,” said Earl with a laugh.

Earl talks about bringing her daughter home from the hospital, three days before Christmas, as “worse then bringing home a newborn.”

She laughs now, looking back, at the memory of her and Lily getting the stomach flu together on Christmas Eve.

“It isn’t that I don’t remember the dark days or that I’ve forgotten,” explained Earl, “but they’ve faded.”

To help remember everything that Lily has gone through, Earl recently joined the Beads of Courage program.

“I had thought about doing it for two years but knew that while I was undergoing that process and those dark days that I wouldn’t be able to have time for that,” said Earl.

But now, she thinks it will be a good keepsake for Lily and a testament to her brave journey to beating cancer.

Earl pored over what she calls ‘the cancer binder’ — a collection of every treatment schedule and hospital stay Lily endured — for days.

“I had to figure out everything from the last two years and the numbers astonished me.”

IMG_8162
Lily collects “beads of courage” for every part of her treatment. These two beautifully decorated beads represent 100 chemo treatments each. The smaller white beads are individual treatments.

Ninety-two black glass beads clink together and slide on the line that spools them along. Those beads represent intravenous injections to Lily’s arm and the port surgically implanted in her chest.

Twenty-two more beads for lumbar punctures, 28 more for nights spent in hospitals, 21 for days spent in isolation due to fevers or infection, 55 for outpatient clinic visits or oncology check ups. Others more still make up the long string of treatments Lily has undergone.

“Everyone has beads in their pockets,” said Earl. “The nurses, the receptionist, the oncologist. When she’s done with a certain thing they’ll just pass her a bead.”

Looped on the string are also some very special beads. Her name, spelled out on large white beads. A fish, to represent her travelling a long distance to get the care she needs. An apple, to mark that she began school during treatment. A wooden face with a flower in its hair to symbolize the locks she lost from chemo. Most significantly are two beautifully ornate beads that each represents 100 chemo treatments.

“She’s part of the 200 club,” said Earl.

At one point, Lily interrupts to ask her mom if she can watch Finding Nemo.

Earl promises afterwards that she can.

She explains later on that to a lot of cancer kids and parents, a prominent quote in the film to “just keep swimming” has become a sort of mantra for them.

“It’s just what you have to do,” said Earl.

Lily Earl, a four-year-old who has been battling cancer.
Lily Earl, a four-year-old who has been battling cancer.

Right now, Lily is swimming towards her purple heart, the final bead that will represent the end of her treatment.

Earl said it’s important to let the community know how dire funding is for pediatric cancer through a post she had written on the Lily Earl Facebook page.

“I wanted to write that post on the last day of Pediatric Cancer Awareness month to show how much these kids need support,” explained Earl. “Only one penny of research goes towards these kids per dollar raised of cancer research.”

For now, the Earl family has a routine when it comes to dealing with Lily’s illness.

“You almost have to have some kind of humour to get through it,” said Earl. “With the gravity of the years worth of treatment that we’re faced with … you wonder how life is ever going to be normal. But it becomes a new normal.”

Family vacations have been piggy-backed onto trips to Calgary for Lily’s treatment. Waterslide parks, a hike up to the top of the World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller, and many others on what Earl calls the family’s Southern Alberta Historical Tour.

Lily interjects and asks to play with her Flynn Rider doll, the male lead from the Disney film Tangled.

She is expected to see Flynn in-person when the family flies to Disneyland as celebration of Lily’s anticipated final treatment.

It’s a chance to try and give her a sense of normalcy and laughter that she may have missed out on otherwise.

“I don’t think that she’s felt yet that she’s missed out on a lot,” said Earl, “But I do. I feel sorry I can’t take her to playgroups I used to take my son to.”

Lily makes the most of life. She laughs, she squeals, she scampers around the house with her lopsided pigtails bobbing. She begged to be placed in preschool, which she attends twice a week.

“The notion of being off-treatment is actually so frightening,” admits Earl. “You know you get conditioned for so many years that chemo keeps the bad things away.”

What scares Earl now isn’t the ‘c’ word (cancer) — formally associated with an automatic death sentence.

“The ‘r’ word, relapse, is what scares me the most,” said Earl.

But Lily’s prognosis so far is good, her family is good, and the community she belongs to is good.

“This is my opportunity to thank everyone I never got the chance to thank,” said Earl.

A collection of the beads that Lily received for her treatment including chemo, blood tests, days of isolation spent in hospitals and various procedures.
A collection of the beads that Lily received for her treatment including chemo, blood tests, days of isolation spent in hospitals and various procedures.

She mentions someone in Sparwood who faithfully donates $60 every month to a bank account opened in Lily’s name. She speaks of anonymous donors who left food and presents on their door during Christmas when Lily was at her worst. She thinks of her friends who decorated their home with twinkly lights when they were in Calgary and away from home. She is constantly blown away by the unending support of the Elk Valley who once raised $25,000 for Lily through an auction set up through Facebook.

“There is a lot of love in this town, in this entire valley,” said Earl.

At this point, Lily asks for her second freezie and another chocolate pudding.

Earl simply smiles and complies, “How can you say no to a kid with cancer?”

Appeared in print October 30, 2014 and online at The Free Press

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Politics

Background: As part of coverage in the 2013 provincial election for The Vancouver Sun. 

Newcomers to provincial politics fight for empty seat in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows

With Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows NDP MLA Mike Sather retiring, the open seat is being contested by a mixture of relative newcomers and veterans to politics.

Conservative Manuel Pratas was shocked even by his own nomination, having not previously anticipated a Conservative candidate to be present in his riding nor in neighbouring Maple Ridge-Mission. Pratas has expressed that the race may be fairly even amongst the current candidates, considering that none of them have run for a provincial seat. Doug Bing of the Liberals and Elizabeth Rosenau for the NDP are also running in the riding for the first time.

Michael Patterson for the Greens is also running for the first time provincially. But he did run, unsuccessfully, for the Greens in 2008′s Maple Ridge municipal election. Patterson currently works as an electrical engineer and telecommunications expert for wireless carriers in B.C.. An avid cyclist, Patterson says in his Green Party profile that, “You don’t have to be left or right wing to support the Green Party. You just have to be someone that cares about your community.”

Although a newcomer to British Columbian politics, construction worker Pratas says he understands the work schedule of a politician — having served three years on city council in Hamilton, Ontario — and wants to put in more time and effort than most. “I speak the language of the people. I’m not going to be a suit and tie man who only works 39 days of the year and spends the rest on vacation.” Along with the Conservatives’ proposed tax credit for commuters stuck with bridge tolls as well as an abolition of the carbon tax, Pratas’ main concerns are education and the environment.

Three-term Pitt Meadows councillor Bing, who is running for the Liberals, has raised questions about his NDP opponent Rosenau’s experience. Rosenau beat out Korleen Carreras for the nomination last June following a recommendation from Sather. Citing her inexperience in politics as a pitfall to his veteran knowledge in the riding, Bing says that he has his “finger on the pulse of the issues that matter to the community” while Rosenau has worked as a pharmacist in the Pitt Meadows region since November 2005.

Supporters of Rosenau argue that her scientific background should be seen as an advantage. She’s supported not only by her predecessor Sather but also NDP health critic Mike Farnworth. Farnworth stated in a press release that Rosenau’s experience as a health professional will be invaluable when forming government.

In the past, this riding has seen some close calls come election day with Sather beating out his then-opponent Liberal Ken Stewart by only 274 votes in the 2009 election. It will be interesting to see in two weeks time who comes out on top — and by how close of a margin.

Originally posted on The Vancouver Sun


Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Candidates

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows candidates make last attempt to sway voters

All four candidates in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows made their pitch to voters at the riding’s last all-candidates meeting at at Meadowridge Secondary school on May 2.

Questions posed by the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce included whether the candidates would support the reinstatement of the business vote in municipal elections.

NDP candidate Elizabeth Rosenau, a pharmacist running for office for the first time, said that she didn’t have enough knowledge to answer fully but said that, “Businesses have every right to lobby politicians to have their needs met.”

B.C. Liberal candidate Doug Bing, a Pitt Meadows councilor of eight years, shot down the idea, stating bluntly, “Individuals vote, not businesses.”

Conservative candidate Manuel “Mike” Pratas was the only one who supported idea, saying that, “Small businesses are the backbone of this province … The B.C. Conservatives are all for trying to work with them.”

One questioner asked about job development, wondering how the Liberals could justify spending $17 million on job development when employment growth hasn’t changed much in the last year, according to Statistics Canada.

Bing pointed out that Statistics Canada posts job development numbers on a monthly basis, reflecting either plateaus or depressions in unemployment rates. Which is true enough as February’s highs were followed by March’s lows, contributing to an overall 7.2% unemployment rate in the province.

In terms of the economy and jobs, Rosenau was quick to point out that the NDP’s proposed diversified economy included “strategic investments” made in agriculture, forestry, film, television and the digital arts. According to Rosenau, “a strong economy is a diversified economy that doesn’t put all its eggs in the LNG basket.”

When asked about corporate business tax increases imposed by the NDP, Rosenau said that, “All we’re doing is rolling back those taxes to 2008 to where they were under Gordy Robson and nobody was talking about businesses fleeing our province in 2008.”

“In fairness to Gordy Robson I think she meant Gordon Campbell,” Bing remarked to audience laughter.

Rosenau sheepishly responded, ”That’s not the first time I’ve made that mistake, thanks Doug.”

In his closing statement, Green candidate Michael Patterson said he’d like to see more government investment in transit and cycling lanes.

Bing pushed for more focus on the economy and LNG development to fund the rest of the province’s necessities including health care and education. Rosenau admitted she hadn’t written a closing statement, wanting to head into the meeting with “an open mind to what we [the NDP] may have missed.” Pratas rounded out the closing statements with a mention of the Conservative-proposed tax credit for users of both toll bridges and ferries.

“You definitely will be voting for change because Michael Sather will be retiring,” Bing quipped at the meeting’s end.

This was the last meeting for all four candidates before the fast-approaching election date on May 14.

Originally posted on The Vancouver Sun

Fashion

Background: A profile on me for my work with celebrity fashion blogs. Published on Racked November 2016.

This Blogger Knows What Taylor Swift Is Wearing Before Anyone Else

And she’s gotten the stamp of approval from Swift herself.

In 2016, there are countless ways to find out what your favorite celebrity wore last night, this morning, to the grocery store, on a plane, truly anywhere.

Social media-savvy stars document their daily outfits on Instagram, tagging specific brands; Hollywood stylists frequently flaunt their work — complete with full outfit credits — on the photo-sharing platform, too; and brands rush to deploy press releases and tweets every time a celeb steps out in their wares. But the fastest way to ID a celebrity’s cute coat or beautiful bag is to turn to one of the passionate fans who have turned cataloguing the head-to-toe looks of their favorite stars into part-time jobs.

Twenty-four-year-old Vancouver native Sarah Kucharski, the founder of Taylor Swift Style, was early to jump on the celebrity style-blogging bandwagon. “I’ve been following Taylor since 2006 — since the beginning — but I fell in love with her music first,” she says. “I was one of those girls who taught herself guitar because of [Taylor]. She’s been the longest relationship of my life!”

It wasn’t until half a decade later that Kucharski (who writes under the name Sarah Laine) decided to launch a site dedicated to tracking the pop star’s style, inspired by the strong community she discovered on Swift’s myriad fan sites. “I’d always liked her style, even though I myself wasn’t really what you’d call a fashionable teenager,” she jokes. “Today, there are lots of sites and social accounts that exist solely to ID what certain celebrities are wearing, but nobody was really doing it back in 2011. I figured there must be other people out there who were as interested in her clothes as I was, so maybe I could fill that gap.”

Taylor Swift in a Tracy Reese dress, Miu Miu pumps, and House of Lavande earrings on October 13, 2011 — the day Kucharski launched her site.
Taylor Swift in a Tracy Reese dress, Miu Miu pumps, and House of Lavande earrings on October 13, 2011 — the day Kucharski launched her site.
 Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Macy’s

Kucharski still remembers the very first outfitshe ever featured on the site: a Tracy Reesedress Swift had paired with Miu Miu pumps and House of Lavande earrings for a fragrance launch. “I was so incredibly proud of myself when I found those shoes,” she remembers. “It was such a high.” Slowly but surely, her site amassed a loyal audience; today, Taylor Swift Style has nearly a quarter of a million followers across all social platforms.

But Kucharski insists that it’s the engagement and community that really set TSS apart. “I’ve had readers refer to me as their big sister, had them reach out from all over the world to thank me for giving them a place to share their opinions and express themselves,” she says. Unlike the vast majority of digital influencers, Kucharski prefers not to reveal much about her own personal life, and rarely posts photos of herself or her own outfits online, despite frequent requests from her TSS-ers to do so. She has no interest in advertising on her site, either — not now, not ever. “Being fast, being accurate, and growing the community. Those have always been my goals,” she says firmly.

Kucharski estimates she spends anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours per day working on Taylor Swift Style, time she splits between researching everything the singer wears, writing her posts, and answering reader questions. As for how she’s able to ID items so, well, swiftly? “It’s a lot of online research and a lot of practice,” she admits.

Kucharski has text notifications set up for a handful of fan sites, which alert her whenever Swift is photographed in public. “I’ll be out to drinks with friends, will get a text update, and they’ll be like, ‘Taylor Swift did something, didn’t she? You have to go, don’t you?’” she says, laughing. “And then of course there are nights when I’m at home, just hanging out — and nothing! We’ve got to get better about coordinating our calendars.”

The hunt for outfit credits starts immediately after. “I can usually spot her repeat accessories and shoes instantly,” she says. “And I know which brands she likes to wear, so I’ll reach out to them with photos and say, “Hey, I have a feeling this might be yours.”’ More often than not, Kucharski has her confirmations long before the brands have had the chance to send out a press release.

Taylor Swift with Tom Hiddleston on July 8th, 2016.
“A lot of TSS-ers subscribe to the boyfriend theory — the idea that she changes her style based on who she’s with at the time — but I don’t,” Kucharski says.
 Photo: Cameron Richardson/Newspix/Getty Images

Shoes are always the easiest to ID, Kucharski says, while jeans are the most difficult (and often require “many minutes spent staring at Taylor Swift’s butt,” she laughs). But more than any particular piece of clothing, she notes, readers always want to know what lipstick Swift is wearing — and while she lists a handful of the singer’s go-to reds on her site’s FAQ page, Kucharski can never be certain which brand and shade she’s wearing at any particular time. “I wish I could be more helpful there,” she says, “but unfortunately I am not a human eyedropper tool.”

Kucharski hasn’t yet made TSS her full-time job, but she’s managed to monetize her sartorial sleuthing through affiliate links, which she began integrating into the site a few years after launch. She prefers not to share exact numbers related to her commissions, but says that she sees plenty of click-throughs and conversions. “I’ve definitely had people say that Taylor’s clothes sell out because of my links,” she adds, “which is flattering, but probably not true.”

Taylor Swift in a Free People dress.
“Once she starts defining the image of her [sixth album], I’m hoping for boho,” Kucharski says. “All the floppy felt hats, all the cute Free People dresses, flower crowns, minimal makeup. That’s what I’d love to see.”
 Photo: Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images

The appeal of Swift’s style, she insists, is in its accessibility. “I mean, she’s a multi-millionaire who wears Brandy Melville!” she exclaims. “She wears Aritzia. She wears Urban Outfitters — brands you can find at your local mall. Granted, she pairs them with a $2,000 Prada bag, but still!” Kucharski also appreciates that Swift and her styling team support more under-the-radar labels, like Hayden Lasher and Soia & Kyo.

Interestingly, however, Kucharski very rarely shops Swift’s closet for herself. “I do own a few pieces she’s worn that I just couldn’t resist — her Henri Bendel Jetsetter Backpack, a Free People skirt,” she says. “I have so much fun seeing everything she wears, but my style is different from hers. I kind of do my own thing.”

Swift is famous for trolling her fans on Tumblr and Instagram, and has been following TSS for several years now. Kucharski tells me the pop star likely discovered the site through her longtime stylist Joseph Cassell, who often leaves comments — specifically on the fashion predictions she posts before awards shows. “So remember when she wore that black sequined Saint Laurent jumpsuit to the iHeart Radio Awards? I’d actually predicted that she would wear Saint Laurent, and I even thought about that jumpsuit for her, but I wound up running a photo of a different dress from that same collection. Afterwards, Joseph left a comment saying ‘You were so close! I was dying to tell you!’”

“I mean, I do those predictions just for kicks, but my white whale is to get it 100 percent right just one time,” she adds. “I can hang my hat after that.”

One day in 2014, Kucharski awoke to a direct message on Twitter from Taylor Nation, the account run by Swift’s management team. She’d been invited to attend one of the musician’s “Secret Sessions” in advance of the release of her then-upcoming album 1989. “I didn’t even read it — I just fell on the floor and started to cry,” she remembers. Kucharski immediately booked a roundtrip flight to New York City and, 48 hours later, found herself standing in Swift’s Tribeca apartment along with 88 other superfans.

After being among the first to hear 1989 in its entirety and enjoying cookies baked by the pop star herself, guests were invited to spend some time with Swift one-on-one. “There she was, standing in front of me in her Christian Louboutins, and she said, ‘I’ve been creeping on your blog for months. I had you picked for this nine months ago,”’ Kucharski says. “She asked me, ‘Do you know what I’m wearing tonight?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve worn that outfit before — do you know what you’re wearing tonight?’ And she was like, ‘No, I actually don’t!’”

Kucharski says, “The whole thing was just very surreal.”