Exciting things to come!

This is a thrilling moment for me. I feel like I’ve been planning, preparing, and especially hoping for the opportunity that is now here for my whole life. As a child, and then for my entire career over the past two and a half decades, I’ve been a storyteller. How that’s taken shape has changed over time. I wrote poetry and stories as a child, pursued a career in journalism as an adult, and have spent most of the past two decades as a writer, multimedia producer, and digital communicator – in everything from government agencies, to hi-tech Fortune 500 companies, to an international art museum. At the same time, I’ve had a deep and life-long interest in our beautiful planet, the strange and wonderful creatures who populate it, and how to live a healthy and vibrant life – one that has contributing to others and to global solutions, as its core.

This is a big moment because this time in history, and the technology we have available, means that we have the autonomy and power to communicate our ideas to each other, all around the entire planet, without needing big media’s help. It’s a big moment in time when, as evolved consumers, we can influence the market in new and more powerful ways. Personally, it’s a big moment because I’m now committing my time and talent to something I’m passionate about.

There are so many problems requiring solutions and so few who understand, or take an interest in, how to make things better. It’s easy to throw up our hands and declare that it’s all too complicated for us to figure out. We can keep waiting for someone else – government, experts, the private sector – to come up with the answer for us. The truth is that there is lots of great work being done by smart, hard-working people in all of these areas. But it’s not enough, and it’s too slow.

But rather than get overwhelmed by what is wrong, I want to celebrate the people, companies, and innovative solutions out there that are, indeed, making a positive difference. I plan to make this a discussion about progress, not perfection. I don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure, and my life is just as messy and imperfect as yours. However, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that I’d love to share. And I’m hopeful that by creating a community of changemakers, we can gather more positive momentum than we can alone.

This blog is all about curating the very best in lifestyle trends and showing you the greatest ideas out there for sustainability, health, and ethical living. Anyone with a device and Internet connection has more power at their fingertips to create change, for themselves and others, than you think. I’ll bring you the top resources: interviews with leading experts, links to influential channels, and reviews of the very best products and books to help you on your journey.

I believe our lives should be luxurious and that Earth is abundant with natural treasures. How we can best steward them, on a global scale or in our own homes, is an exciting question. There are so many options to explore.



An Artist’s Calling

By Alexia Naidoo

UDATE: Here is the letter Sophie Grégoire Trudeau sent to Lydia after reading my article:

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Lydia Pepin knew all along she had a creative impulse, but she didn’t make the leap to follow her passion until her mid-twenties.

“Even as a child I was always drawing and painting. I was more interested in art than sitting at a desk and doing math,” says Lydia. But as school no one was supportive of this budding passion. “I grew up with everyone pushing me away from art.”

After graduating with a communications degree from the University of Ottawa, Lydia got a job in the government which left her unfulfilled. “I was surrounded by wonderful people and the job was interesting. But I just had this creative beast inside of me that was stifled.”

She then had what she calls her quarter-life crisis. “It was my birthday. I was sitting at work in my cubicle, and I thought, what am I doing? I decided I had to take a chance – that I’d rather starve to death and do what I love than just miserable for the rest of my life.” She adds, “Everyone thought I was completely out of my mind when I left my government job, but I’ve never regretted it.”

Lydia learned about drawing and sculpting in a 3D animation program, and explains, “animation is really the Old Masters’ way. You put a lot of work into the light, the framing, the composition. You have a short amount of time to tell a story, so it has to be compelling.”

Working in Ottawa studios included making animation for cartoons with the Kratt Brothers Company (makers of the Emmy-award winning children’s show Zoboomafoo) and Jam Filled. although Lydia found a creative outlet working at the animation studios, there was still something missing for her.

“As much as I was surrounded by wonderfully talented and creative people, you don’t get to express yourself as much working for someone else.” So she started to paint in her spare time and decided to make the leap to being a full-time artist.

Lydia was drawn to portraiture with an “old-school” style of painting. “I’ve always loved observing people. There’s something wonderful about just studying someone and capturing everything that is unfolding in front of you to tell a story.”

In a very fortuitous turn of events, Lydia was approached by Major Jim Watson’s office with a commissions for a portrait of the Ottawa’s mayor. She was excited but nervous at the prospect of creating such an important painting. “I don’t want to just paint someone’s physical appearance. I want to capture their essence, the spark of light they have in their eyes. That requires time and focus,” says the artist, who took over 160 hours to complete the Mayor’s portrait.

Lydia says Mayor Watson was very approachable and likable subject to paint. “Despite his stature, he’s a very modest man and that’s what I wanted to capture.” To save him sitting for hours, Lydia interviewed him and than held an extensive photo shoot, noting “I don’t want to paint from one photo in particular – I combine them to tell the whole story.” the large 3×4 foot oil painting now hangs in Ottawa City Hall.


Having had such a wonderful start to her painting career, Lydia is thrilled to be embracing her creative side and is now looking to other projects. These include an exhibition of new works at Grounded Kitchen & coffeehouse, opening on December 10.

The artist admits there have been nerve-wracking moments and says, “there’s no secret recipe written somewhere on how to do this, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice.” Now Lydia can paint for a twelve hour stretch and not realize the time. She adds, “When you love something so much it’s very engaging. I’m definitely doing what I’m meant to do.”

Check out one of my favourite articles in Ottawa at Home Magazine about an aspiring local artist making the leap:

Teamwork by Design

It’s a project nearly two years in the making, but the magic touch of a local design duo has taken a six-bedroom Manotick home to a new level of awesomeness.

The renovation called upon the expertise of Laurie Jarvis from Unique Spaces and Lucie Cadieux from Cadieux Interiors. The designers first met when the homeowners were picking out furniture pieces from Cadieux and brought Laurie into the project for guidance on paint colours and finishes.

With a 20-something-year-old home that needed updating, the clients wanted to give it a fresh aesthetic. They tasked Lucie and Laurie with creating something calming and peaceful that would hold a delicate balance between a traditional look and clean, modern lines.


Their design concept opened up the foyer to make it the central gem of the home, adding new front doors and over-sized tiling that created a majestic entrance to the living room. Custom pieces were chosen for the living room, keeping in mind that everything had to fit the scale and look of the space. Some key pieces include a Sorbonne chair designed by renowned French designer Jacques Garcia from Baker Furniture; plus two pieces designed by Barbara Barry: a custom neutral-weave sofa combined with velvet-trimmed throw pillows, and a round coffee table beautifully finished in pearl with a gentle scooped edge.


Throughout the house, blues and grays, with hints of gold and amethyst, showcase the comforting colour palette developed for wallpaper, fabric and Benjamin Moore paint selections. Custom closets were added to the bedrooms and all the bathrooms were updated with fixtures, customs mirrors, lighting and linens. In addition, new Marquis units replaced the fireplace in the master bedroom and family room.

Working with the client, Laurie chose original artwork from Koyman Galleries, including a magnificent Toller Cranston piece that is a focal point of the dining room. Meanwhile, Lucie tackled some challenging areas, including wall alcoves that she says can be hard to fill. She recommends taking dimensions, being open-minded about what might work, and taking a trial-and-error approach. Don’t be afraid to bring pieces home to see what works.

“A house like this deserves a certain calibre of appointments,” said Laurie. She and Lucie didn’t rest until they found just the right piece for each space.

A combination of Lucie’s knowledge of the marketplace and her national and international shopping trips to source the latest trends helped a great deal. “I figure out what’s on the market right now and what we can get our hands on that fits our needs,” said Lucie. “We have so many great manufacturers that we work with, so we can go out there and choose what’s best for the client.”

The team’s design work extended to the outdoor living space, which beautifully expands the indoor entertaining area. The concrete flooring was painted in a rich, earthy tone to flow better with the decking, and existing furniture pieces were re-upholstered, which Lucie says often makes more sense than buying new. The indoor-outdoor room was appointed with fresh pieces in umbrella fabric, a new table and area rug, updated lighting, a Heat & Glo fireplace, and a television entertainment system.

The spacious lower floor now flows from two bedrooms created for the teens in the family, through to a games room, gym and seating areas for R&R. It culminates in a home theatre with bar and red-carpet accents for the full Hollywood experience.

Laurie and Lucie made smart use of the structural bones and on-site materials that could be incorporated into the new look. The still-gleaming wood floors were kept, as were some hints of the original Mediterranean tile. The overall look has been lightened up, modernized and, in some cases, the existing furniture only needed to be recovered and refinished with more neutral tones.

The collaboration between the two designers turned out to be a real winner. “When you work on a major project like this over a period of time, it’s nice to have a second opinion to keep your perspective fresh,” said Laurie. Lucie agreed, saying, “It definitely increased our creativity and really pushed us to think in new directions.”

Their hard work came together beautifully and the result is a gorgeous look and a happy client. The overall design is both upscale and carefully curated, while retaining the welcoming warmth of a perfect family home.


Alexia Naidoo
(Article originally appeared in Ottawa at Home Magazine, Summer 2016.)

Protecting Heritage & Environment in Old Ottawa East

Greystone Village is a 26-acre development project in the heart of Old Ottawa East between the Rideau Canal and the Rideau River. Settlement in the area, which used to be called Archville, goes back almost 200 years to when the Catholic monastic community, Les Oeuvres Oblates de l’Ontario, built the main building on the Édifice Deschâtelets land in 1885. This was three years before the Village of Ottawa East was incorporated. Ottawa At Home chatted recently with Josh Kardish, Manager of Land Development at The Regional Group, about the historic land they purchased from the religious order. They are working with EQ Homes and architect Barry Hobin on the project and he discusses how the developers had a significant obligation to create something that would fit into the community and respect the land’s deep history.


HOW DID THE PROJECT PLAN COME TOGETHER? The Ottawa East Community Association and the previous landowners created and approved a Community Design Plan, with a list of objectives we used for the project. For example, there’s a maximum level of development and a maximum height of nine stories. The previous landowners were supportive of the retention of the building, Édifice Deschâtelets, and the tree-lined allée. And the Old Ottawa East Community Association especially wanted a plan with principles of environmental sustainability.

WHAT IS AN LEED-ND CANDIDATE COMMUNITY? It’s a rating system that moves beyond the environmental envelope of the home and looks at the sustainability at the community and neighbourhood design (ND) levels. For example, it looks at tree cover, storm water retention, connectivity of sidewalks, room for bicycles, and so on. Currently we are one of two LEED-ND communities in the city, Lansdowne is the other.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS TO REPLACE THE TREES YOU HAD TO REMOVE? There will be a major replanting and we’re making an incredible investment in trees and how they’re planted. We’ve devised a series of engineering solutions that allows us to get bigger, more robust trees with a greater canopy and additional barrier systems to protect the tree roots from the building foundations.

WHAT IS PLANNED FOR THE RIVERFRONT? The Rideau River Conservation Authority has been a great partner. They were involved in the site-design plan so we knew they wanted to keep that corridor completely natural – and that’s what we’re doing. But there were those who wanted to see the waterfront used and integrated into the development. That’s been the biggest single hurdle.

WAS THERE A LOT OF SOIL CLEANUP REQUIRED ON THE SITE? We’re a little past the halfway point on what is currently the largest approved brownfield remediation application in the history of the city of Ottawa. It’s a benign and inert chemical in the ground, but we needed to go through the process and we went in eyes-wide-open about the expense and the timeline. We’re proud that we’re using the backfill from the Confederation Line pit, which saved greenhouse gas emissions from trucking that out of the city.

WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR COMMERCIAL SPACE? We’ve planned for a base population to support existing commercial services. We’d like to find a grocer for the community, and perhaps a restaurant or pub. And we’ve had interest from coffee shops, doctors, dentists, and 
so on.

IS THERE A LOT OF WORK TO BRING SUCH AN HISTORICAL BUILDING UP TO DATE? The religious order had been there for over a century. It was an educational facility and monastic residence. The outside is designated heritage and will stay as is, but the inside will be taken down to studs and rebuilt. (Items of historical value, including the doors to the chapel, were already removed.) This was a building that was the centre of the community but few got to use it. The plan right now – we have a letter of intent signed with the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation and we’re hoping to work with the City of Ottawa – is to repurpose the building and turn it into a public community centre, non-profit housing, and some space for the Sandy Hill Health Cooperative. These new community-anchored uses will carry the building for another century or more.

(Article originally published in Ottawa at Home Magazine, February, 2017.)

James Wilson Morrice: A Gift of a Lifetime’s Work


It may be one of the most significant gifts in the history of the National Gallery of Canada: a collection of 50 works by one of the most celebrated names in Canadian art history, James Wilson Morrice (1865–1924).

The benefactor, Ash Prakash, is a renowned author and collector of Canadian art, as well as a Distinguished Patron of the Gallery and a Director on the Board of Directors of the NGC Foundation.

“It became very clear to us that Mr. Prakash cared deeply about how the donation of his Morrice collection, perhaps the last large collection of works by this artist in private hands, was to be used in programs and research,” Karen Colby-Stothart, CEO of the NGC Foundation, told NGC Magazine. “He is a collector who is absolutely passionate about this artist and has been collecting Morrice for four decades.”

James Wilson Morrice, The Pink House, Montreal (also The Old House, Montreal) [c. 1905–08], oil on canvas. Gift of A.K. Prakash, J.W. Morrice Collection, 2015. NGC, Ottawa

James Wilson Morrice, Girl in a Chair (c. 1900), oil on canvas. Gift of A.K. Prakash, J.W. Morrice Collection, 2015. NGC, Ottawa

Born in Montreal in 1865, Morrice ventured to Paris in 1890 with the intention of pursuing a career as an artist. Unlike most of his compatriots who stayed only for the duration of their artistic training or for a sketching trip, Morrice chose to settle permanently in the city. He became the very first – and only – Canadian artist to sustain a viable career of international stature in what was, at that time, the capital of the art world. Although he didn’t speak French when he arrived, he soon integrated himself in Parisian artistic circles and established a phenomenal career. He was invited to show at the salons with all the big names, exhibiting next to the likes of Monet and Matisse.

This was an important period of time in Paris in terms of Modernist approaches to art. “You not only have Impressionism, you have Post-impressionism, Fauvism, and so on. Morrice is aware of all that, but his ability to carve his own style means you cannot define him with one word – he stands apart,” said Katerina Atanassova, Senior Curator of Canadian Art at the NGC.

Morrice was not only an artistic force in Paris; he had a significant impact in Canada, influencing two or three generations of Canadian artists. He gave them a vision of art as a mirror to life itself. “One of the most important elements of his art was the ability to draw the viewer in with the essential and to abbreviate a vision of the landscape and life around him. It’s almost a cerebral experience, as opposed to a visual one,” says Atanassova.

James Wilson Morrice, Fruit Market, North Africa (c. 1911), oil on panel. Gift of A.K. Prakash, J.W. Morrice Collection, 2015. NGC, Ottawa

The timing of the donation is in honour of the 150th anniversary of Morrice’s birth, and it will play a pivotal role in the rehanging of the Canadian Gallery for the country’s sesquicentennial in 2017. The collection is valued at $20 million, according to Gallery sources.

Colby-Stothart says that the gallery is also in the planning stages of a retrospective of Morrice’s work to take to major galleries in other countries, as well as a possible collaboration with the Canadian Conservation Institute. “When you have the largest collection in the world of James Wilson Morrice, it transforms your research capacity. We now have a very representative body of work, both stylistically and technically, giving us enormous potential to do a major survey.”

The gift adds 50 works, including large-scale panels, a range of mid-size and small pochades, five watercolours and a sketchbook, to the existing 138 Morrice works already in the NGC collection. These include not just his paintings in Paris, Normandy and Brittany, but also in Italy, North Africa, the West Indies and, of course, Canada – all places in which he painted. Some of the new masterpieces include Le Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris (1905–1908); Havre (1909); and Canal in Venice (c.1898–1900).

James Wilson Morrice, Canal in Venice (c. 1898–1900), oil on canvas. Gift of A.K. Prakash, J.W. Morrice Collection, 2015. NGC, Ottawa

“We’re fortunate in Canada that we have this exceptional community of philanthropists who care very deeply about building the National Gallery’s collection,” says Colby-Stothart. One of the ways the NGC is able to properly recognize their contributions is through a naming program, and so, to honour his commitment to art, one of the Canadian historical galleries in the permanent collection will be renamed the Ash K. Prakash Gallery.

“This has been an incredible collaboration in developing our national collection for future generations, keeping it both relevant and dynamic,” says Colby-Stothart. “This gift will help us tell the story of James Wilson Morrice to Canadians and to the world.”

100 Million Reasons to Smile: Ottawa’s Finance Deal of the Year

After launching Canada’s biggest tech IPO in the past four years – not to mention the country’s largest software-as-a-service public offering ever – Kinaxis is an easy choice for Ottawa’s finance deal of the year.

© Cole Burston

Kinaxis CFO Richard Monkman

Kinaxis, which has its headquarters and R&D operations in the capital, specializes in cloud-based applications for supply chain management and sales and operations planning.

“I was pleased to accept the award on behalf of the company and the Kinaxis team. And I really want to stress it very much was a team effort,” says Kinaxis CFO Richard Monkman.

He adds the team included not only internal players, but also a very strong syndicate with the joint bookrunners of BMO and Canaccord Genuity, auditors KPMG, and Dentons, the company’s principal law firm.

“Everybody just stepped right up to the plate, with this tight timeline, and executed,” says Mr. Monkman.

Going public was an option Kinaxis chose carefully.

“The company never needed to go public in so far as it was a profitable company and it had lots of cash on the balance sheets,” says David Wismer, managing director at BMO Capital Markets.

“In addition to that, there were very patient shareholders involved. So the combination of those three things meant that there was never an impetus or requirement to do something quickly.”

In the past year, however, conditions changed somewhat, with the company dramatically expanding its sales force and moving into additional verticals.

There were also shareholders willing to sell a portion of their ownership stakes, prompting a share buy-back and using a good portion of the existing cash balance.

The time seemed ripe for an IPO in early 2014, when Kinaxis gained the prestigious position of market leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant assessment.

“We have that very strong industry recognition,” says Mr. Monkman. “And we thought it would be very well coupled with the market recognition of being a public company.”

He says they started early on to “layer in the building blocks,” including such things as changing contracting practices, strengthening tax filing, preparing the banks and switching over to International Financial Reporting Standards.

“I’m of the view that you can never do enough planning to get ready for the IPO,” says Mr. Monkman.

The hard prep work only intensified in the weeks leading up to the public offering, when the team went on a “road show” to sell the Kinaxis story to investors.

“I was on the road with the management team, who did a great job meeting over 100 institutional investors, which is a gruelling couple of weeks. They were in 10 cities in 11 days,” says Mr. Wismer.

“You have to sleep when you can sleep,” Mr. Monkman says with a laugh, describing long days of air travel and meetings.

But, he says, the hard work was worth it, and the Kinaxis message was well-received by investors.

“Here we are growing in the mid-twenties per cent, we’re in technology, we’re absolutely a growth player … And we’re also generating and we have a track record of sustained profit,” he says. “So our road show wasn’t one many companies come out with. We have a story that we can pitch to the growth players and we have a story we can pitch to the value players. No one had seen this mix before.”

As with any IPO, risk enters the picture.

“The period of time between you choosing to do the IPO and getting it done, what happens in the equity markets? In this particular case, there were unfortunately a couple of other software-as-a-service companies that began to trade poorly in and around the time we were marketing this IPO, so that was also a challenge,” says Mr. Wismer.

The drop in the SaaS index threw a wrench in their original plan to price the shares in the range of $14 to $16.

“We ended up pricing the IPO at 13 (dollars per share), but of course it’s traded up 40 per cent since then, so it’s been a real success,” Mr. Wismer says.

He says the strong demand for a recent secondary offering of common shares partly stems from some of those initial meetings now bearing fruit.

“Their outlook is very strong, consistent with what management said during the IPO as well as on subsequent investor calls,” says Mr. Wismer. “They have a big market opportunity in front of them and they have the leading solution in their market. They’re growing in new verticals, such as automotive and consumer packaged goods, to name a couple, and so their future looks quite bright.”

Mr. Monkman agrees.

“We’ve now issued two quarters, post-IPO, and have exceeded expectations,” he says.

Kinaxis numbers:

Local employees: 170

Year founded: 1984

Key clients: Cisco, Qualcomm, Ford, Nikon

2011 revenues

$38 million

2013 revenues:

$60.8 million

Increase: 60 per cent

2014 Q3 revenues:

$17.7 million

Increase from 2013 Q3:

14 per cent

2014 Q3 profit:

$2.5 million

2013 Q3 loss:

$2.8 million

Bringing the World of Impressionism to the Prairies

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, The Hudson River (n.d.), oil on burlap, 50.6 x 40.9 cm. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift from the Estate of Arnold O. Brigden, G-73-328

There are two ways in which Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald (1890–1956) is typically remembered: as the last artist to join the Group of Seven or, as Montreal art critic Robert Ayre described him, the “Painter of the Prairies.”

But the idea that FitzGerald didn’t mature until the 1930s, or that his isolation and focus on work in and around Winnipeg define him, really doesn’t capture what was happening between 1910 and 1920. According to Andrew Kear, Curator of Historical Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, FitzGerald developed an interesting and unique approach to Impressionism — recording the sensory impact of light on canvas — during this first decade. And he was making an effort to create in a way that was relevant within an international context.

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, Portrait of the Artist’s Son, Edward FitzGerald (1918), oil on canvas, 16.4 x 22.5 cm. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, G-64-26

“What got me interested about this period in FitzGerald’s career is not only that it’s overlooked, but that it really focuses on how the artist, early on, was looking outside of his own backyard,” said Kear in an interview with NGC Magazine about the new exhibition L.L. FitzGerald’s Impressionist Decade, 1910–1920. “He was still painting the Manitoba prairies, beaches, and forests. But stylistically, he was developing his art in a way that’s in dialogue with international modern art.”

Since he lived in Winnipeg, without the means to travel and study overseas, FitzGerald’s understanding of Impressionism was largely secondhand, with much of his information coming from Winnipeg colleagues who had contact with Impressionist work in Europe. FitzGerald was also a regular visitor at his local library, and encountered art informally by studying books and reading art magazines. This meant that he had to figure out an artistic movement and style —one that is emphatically about colour and light, largely from black-and-white images.

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, Assiniboine River (Sketch) [1921], oil on canvas, 24.7 x 29.9 cm. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Mrs. P. Chester, G-56-23

However, he would also have encountered examples of Canadian Impressionism — works by M.-A. de Foy Suzor-Coté and Maurice Cullen, for example — brought to Winnipeg from the National Gallery of Canada. In 1910 and 1920, he also made two trips to Chicago, where European and American Impressionist paintings could be seen in both private collections and at the Art Institute of Chicago. Kear believes that, during the 1920 trip, FitzGerald would have seen a painting calledThe Northwest Wind (1914) by American Impressionist Charles Harold Davis. Kear believes that the painting’s vertically-oriented landscape, with a thin strip of land along the bottom, giving focus to a huge sky, made an impact on FitzGerald.

When FitzGerald returned to Winnipeg following his second trip to Chicago, he was painting in an unmistakably Impressionist mode, and produced one of his most important works: Summer Afternoon, The Prairie (1921). The top three-quarters of FitzGerald’s painting features the prairie sky with swirling clouds, while the bottom consists of a narrow slice of land. The image breaks up in high-keyed brushstrokes, with little attention to shadow. “It’s done in a very Divisionist, very Impressionist way,” says Kear. “Its resemblance to the orientation of Davis’ painting, and its subject matter, is uncanny and suggests that FitzGerald was thinking of the work he saw in Chicago.”

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, Summer Afternoon, The Prairie (1921), oil on canvas, 107.2 x 89.5 cm. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, L-90

In addition to iconic paintings such as Summer Afternoon, The Prairie, the exhibition includes lesser-known works. Drawn from the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s collection of over 1,000 objects by FitzGerald, this careful selection of oil paintings, monotypes, pastels, and small oil studies on canvas offers a fresh new look at an important Canadian Impressionist, at a key period in his artistic journey.

For more information on L.L. FitzGerald’s Impressionist Decade, 1910–1920, please visit theWinnipeg Art Gallery website. The exhibition is on view until June 7, 2015.