It’s Only Fair

Stone at the gate of a Palestinian farm in Palestine that is a meeting place of people from different cultures and religions. MCC photo: Megan Mast

My blogs lean heavily on the thrift theme but I am a Thrift Shopper for Peace and this blog focuses more on this side of my mandate. (You can learn more about that on my About page).

I am a big fan of fair trade products. I try to buy fair trade coffee, spices, chocolate, sugar. I have some clothing that is made by women who recycle saris and other clothing and sell their products in order to earn a living wage. I understand that I pay more for these products so that an artisan or a farmer in another country can live sustainably.

Zatoun Extra Virgin Olive Oil – such a great product!

But lately, I’ve noticed a rise in prices of some of the things that I have always bought at fair trade stores. One example is the Zatoun olive oil that I buy at Ten Thousand Villages. This is an excellent product. I use it in everything except baking (because I don’t like the taste of olives in baking). I used to pay $20 a bottle for this and while I know that’s more than what I’d pay for olive oil elsewhere, I pay it because I know that it supports farmers in Palestine who are living in very challenging circumstances, supporting peace projects, education and peace dialogue between Palestinians and Jews.

When I purchase at Ten Thousand Villages, my money specifically supports their Trees for Life program, which helps farmers (including new and women farmers) by providing them with olive tree saplings to replace those destroyed by the ongoing conflict there.

But the last time I went to buy my Zatoun, I saw that the price had jumped to $25 a bottle. That’s a 25% increase in price! And suddenly I’m thinking to myself  wait a minute, I support fair trade but doesn’t it also have to be fair to me?

I emailed my local Ten Thousand Villages about the price hike and the manager there responded right away. This is the response she received from her head office:

Throughout our 10 year strong partnership with Zatoun, we’ve had no price increases, however, they can no longer absorb their cost increases.  We remain committed to our partnership with Zatoun, and to continuing our donation to the Trees for Life program.  Ten Thousand Villages Canada is responsible for roughly 30% of the annual donations to this vital program.

MCC Photo: Megan Mast

This past spring, several friends from my church traveled to Palestine with Mennonite Central Committee and met with olive farmers who have been farming groves that have been in their families for centuries – literally. They continue to try and sustain their groves despite the random annexation of land, destruction of trees and hardships created by the building of the wall. I heard these stories the same week that I was wrestling with the increased cost in my olive oil. It’s one thing to read about good work on a website but when trusted friends visit a place and meet with farmers first hand, listen to their stories and see with their own eyes the challenges they live with… well, it really brought it home to me.

So, I will pay the increased price. I will do it with joy. Why? Because at the end of the day, I can. I am blessed with work that I love that pays me a very good wage, blessed to live in a country that has the longest undefended border in the world (and regardless of how I feel about their current government, that is still a truly remarkable thing), and blessed to be in a position where shopping fair trade is a choice I can make. I know that this is not true for others but while I am able to make this choice, I will. Because it’s only fair.

What is your favourite fair trade product?

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That’s a Wrap

I had the privilege of attending a wedding this summer. Mark and Rachel were married at the always-lovely Tanglebank Gardens in Abbotsford. It was a perfect day – blue skies after a week or more of smoke/haze and a cool evening to enjoy dinner and dancing.

Mr. and Mrs. Rempel, photo credit: Christina Kliewer Photography

I always like to find something unique for wedding gifts – but not so unique that the couple will think I’m crazy (admittedly, that can be a little tricky at times.) I purchased a gorgeous handcrafted serving board, painted by local artist Linda Klippenstein, and tried to match the colours to what the couple had chosen in their gift registry. I was pretty pleased with the purchase.

i loved these so much i bought one for myself too. this isn’t the exact board (neither mine nor Rachel and Mark’s) but very like it. gorgeous, right?

The only trick was that it’s an awkwardly shaped gift that didn’t come with a box, so wrapping was going to be a challenge. I solved the problem by deconstructing and reconstructing a produce box to fit the shape of the board. This protected the art piece and also gave me something to wrap.

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I also like to wrap my gifts uniquely, often opting for colour comics or old calendars instead of retail gift wrap. But I happened to be at a thrift shop and found this pretty wedding wrapping paper and matching ribbon, so went for that instead.

It cost me all of $3. But I didn’t have a bow to finish it off, so I poured a glass of grapefruit radler and got crafty, fashioning my own bow out of the thrifted ribbon and a button from my button box that matched it perfectly.

Not sure if it was the radler or what but I was pretty impressed with my finished product. Hopefully the bride was too (and the groom, I guess, but not sure if many grooms pay attention to things like the quality of gift wrap and bows. Mark may prove me wrong.)

What’s your favourite, creative way to wrap gifts?





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National Thrift Shop Day 2017

Apparently it’s National Thrift Shop Day (who decides these things?). So to celebrate, I thought I’d share with you my top three favourite thrift shops. It was hard to decide because there are so many that I like to visit, so I thought I’d share one local to me in the Fraser Valley, one in Vancouver, one in Victoria and one overseas, in Scotland.

this photo comes from their website and i love it because it shows all the amazing volunteers that support this shop. volunteers are the heart of every charity thrift shop!

Second Story Treasures – 88th Avenue, Langley BC

This little gem of a shop supports the Langley Hospice Society. The shop is conveniently located on 88th Avenue (at 202) and is part of a strip mall so there’s ample parking. The attention to detail here is evident in the layout of the shop. The clothing section is very boutique-like with clothes hung by colour, size and type and with racks not over crowded. Shoes and household goods are displayed on standard racks but it doesn’t have a ‘garage sale’ feel at all. The furniture and books area is nicely laid out with room to walk around and a comfy chair to sit in as you consider how many books you’ll buy. The volunteers are cheerful and friendly. Things are reasonably priced and I’ve found some real treasures here – so the clever name of the shop is true!

Salvation Army 4th Avenue – Vancouver BC

There’s a few Sally Ann’s in Vancouver and I’ve visited a lot of them. I like quite a few of them but I landed on this one for a couple of reasons. It’s a nice size – not so big that you get tired walking through it and not so small that it doesn’t have enough stuff to make it worth your while. What I like most about it is its content: there’s always cool, funky stuff here and I think that’s because it’s in the heart of Kitsalano where the cool, funky people live and these are the ones who donate here! I’ve found unique shoes and clothes here, a great Pier One bowl that I use all the time, books and CDs and more. They have a great collectibles section too, for those who like that sort of thing. My only criticism is lack of parking but that’s Vancouver for ya. They have some limited parking at the back of the shop, if you’re lucky you’ll find a spot there. But if you can’t drive around til you find one, the shop is worth it.

WIN Thrift Store – Pandora Street – Victoria, BC

I visit Victoria about once a year and I always make a point of visiting the WIN shop. This place is special because it’s evident from the moment you walk in that this is a group effort and the group really took their time to think through some things to make your experience a good one. When you come in, a friendly volunteer asks if she can keep your bag behind the counter to make your shopping experience easier. At the dressing rooms, there are signs that put a positive slant on things like restrictions on how much you can take in the dressing room or on shoplifting. They recognize that their tags a communication tool and use them well. But what I like best is that the content – this is a carefully curated shop. You will pay slightly (but not a ton) more for their goods but everything is clean and of good quality. They have several shops in Victoria but the Pandora Street one is the largest with a big selection of clothing, shoes, household goods, books, records/CDs, and furniture. And it’s right in the heart of downtown Victoria so check it out and then head to Red Fish Blue Fish food truck for lunch!

Shoard means to prop or to shore up – in essence, to support.

Shoard Charity Shop, Island of Walsay, Shetland, Scotland

Okay. I’ve been in a ton of thrift shops in Scotland because Scotland has a ton of thrift shops (what can you expect from a country that invented frugal?) This thrift shops is the most northern thrift shop in the country and it’s hard to get to even at that but it’s totally worth it. It’s only open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 2-4 pm and you have to take a boat to get there (obviously). There’s very little else on the island – no restaurants, atms (so bring cash with you because it’s cash only) or other tourist attractions. There is a golf course that’s gorgeous, so you can fit that in around your 2 hour shopping window. The shop is housed in a converted school house. It’s large, bright and the volunteers are chatty and friendly. They have a large selection of items and they also sell locally hand-knitted items and preserves. All of it supports people living with disabilities. Check out my blog on it to see all the photos I took! It’s well worth a visit when you travel to Scotland – and you will travel to Scotland, right?

What’s your favourite thrift shop?

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Under a Dollar

This past week I revisited a thrift shop in the Okanagan, the hospital auxiliary thrift shop in Oliver BC. This is what I call a “classic” thrift shop: not huge, a little messy, bit of a ‘garage sale’ feel, super nice volunteers, supports a great cause. One weird thing, though, as of May this year, the shop is closed on Tuesdays. Tuesdays? What’s up with that?

evidently i was so excited to be here that my hands were shaking. sorry for the blurry photo.

Anyway, we went back on Wednesday. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but knew I needed a new pasta spoon. (Mine, part of a wedding gift 31 years ago, lost two of its teeth last month, so it was time for it to retire.)

While trawling through the odds and ends in the household good section I found this cool one, which also allows you to measure dry pasta accurately. Also found a really great ice cube tray (also broke one at home last week, so, score) and anti-slip liner, which I use for cutting boards and throw rugs. The price tag? A whopping 85cents. I know, right?

And then I found a dime in the parking lot, so…

Next week, I’ll share what my son found while in Oliver. In the meantime, tell me: do you look for thrift shops when you travel or is my family just weird that way?



Posted in second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thrifting on the Isle of Skye

I have to confess that I seem to have inherited a bad traveling habit from my mom: buying books. Last year when we traveled with her to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, she bought so many books we weren’t sure that she’d be able to bring them all home. Fast forward one year to me in Scotland, same problem. We bought 9 books – not including a few, smaller booklets purchased at museums.

Not all of these were purchased used. The two Peter May books in the photo were new – the big, heavy, hard-cover Hebrides was a must-have after we’d read his trilogy and then we found Coffin Road, which won’t be released in North America until November, so – score!

But as I noted in my last post, we hunted through thrift shops to find a few titles that I had read about before we began our trip. One afternoon, we visited the Windrush Café and Studio and Mor Used Book Store, in Struan, Isle of Skye. We stopped here because it billed itself as having “coffee worth driving for miles to drink” but when we got there, we discovered that the whole shop was closing, so very little fancy coffee or pastry was being served.

But there were plenty of books and a whole section of vintage clothing and odds and ends. It was here that we found two books we’d been searching for:

Calum’s Road, is a non-fiction book about a man who single-handedly built a road on the tiny island of Raasay (just off the coast of Skye, which we visited), in “defiance against the erosion of his native culture.”  It’s another one of countless stories that speak to the tenacity and pluck of islanders.

Whisky Galore is fiction but based on the true story of the wreckage of the SS Politician, which came to ruin on the shores of Eriskay, with thousands of bottles of whisky on board, valiantly rescued by the locals and hidden from the officials who came looking for it.

The Screen Machine is movie theatre in a semi-truck. How cool is that?

And in one of those cool, serendipitous travel moments, we actually got to see the latest movie version of this when the Screen Machine pulled into Tarbert, on Harris.

the interior

This traveling movie theatre seats just over 80 people and brings feature films to the islands where there is no movie theatre. It was just as comfortable as any movie theatre I’ve been in with the added bonus that we could bring our own snacks!

Are you a traveling book buyer?

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Thrifting in the Outer Hebrides

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. I know, right?

My husband and I recently visited Scotland for the third time, this time focusing on the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Skye. I knew from previous visits that Scotland is a haven for charity shops, with even the smallest places having at least one shop and this trip was no different.

I had a couple of things in mind before we even left for Scotland. One of the things John and I always do before a trip is try and read novels set in the place where we are visiting. We find this gives us a unique look into the culture and character of a place. For this trip, we read Peter May’s trilogy: Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chess Men and we fell in love with his writing and the setting. I also read Seasons on Harris: A Year in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides by David Yeadon – not a novel but a travel memoir that was also a good read. I had looked for several other books as well but found that they were either out of print or not available even through amazon, so I knew that I would be looking for some books at thrift shops. Once again, thrift didn’t disappoint!

i noticed that bunting is a common way to decorate things in Scotland

My first thrift shop was the Harris Charity Shop in Tarbert, Isle of Harris. The lovely, wee shop is housed in a mobile home adjacent to the parking lot of the tourist info centre – great location. It’s small, as you can see, but the shop supports many organizations that help elderly people and those living with developmental disabilities (which interested me, since I work for an organization that does the same.)

i also collect rocks and shells from every beach we visit. does anyone else do this crazy thing?

I found one of the books I had hoped to get – Sea Room, an Island Life by Adam Nicolson. Cost me a whopping 75p (about $1.30).

Blythswood was the largest of the three shops I visited

A few days later we visited Stornoway, the largest town on the isle of Harris and Lewis. I had done my research and discovered several shops. We visited three: the British Red Cross, Blythswood Care, and Save the Children.

This shop had the most provocative sign.

Like many charity shops in Scotland, these were all located in the heart of the tourist area in Stornoway, which always surprises me. Each shop was tiny but beautifully arranged, tidy and staffed with friendly volunteers.

The British Red Cross Charity shop overlooking the harbour in Stornoway

I didn’t find anything that I was looking for in any of the shops but I took note of one thing in the British Red Cross shop that was unique.

such a smart use of a tag!

One of the things that all the British Red Cross shops does so well is use their price tags to convey a ton of information to shoppers. Why all shops don’t make better use of this little piece of real estate is beyond me. It’s such a simple way of reminding shoppers that their purchase supports a charity.

This time around, I noted that some items also included this giftaid tag and asked the volunteer what it meant.

What I learned was that as a person donating an item, I can indicate that I want the British Red Cross to act as the agent to sell the items I’ve donated and indicate that they can collect an extra 25p for every 1 pound that is paid for an item. It’s a unique way to donate a portion of your taxes back to a charity. What a great idea!

Next week: Thrifting on the Isle of Skye

Posted in book stores, books, Charity Shops in Scotland, second hand, thrift, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, travel, used books | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Surgery, First World Problems and Travel

my good friend Linda brought this little treasure to me when I was in the hospital and it’s still alive!

Back in March, I ended up in the hospital with an inflamed gallbladder. It wasn’t pretty; I was in the Abbotsford hospital for a week, only to be sent home to await surgery which was scheduled for 6 weeks later. My instructions were: eat a low fat diet, don’t do yoga, take it easy. Okay, well the last part was pretty simple. I was super bummed about not being able to do yoga but if it was going to make my gallstone move around and cause more inflammation, I wasn’t going there. The low fat was a challenge but I actually appreciated the things I learned about food, about fat, about portion sizes, etc. and I looked at it as the diet intervention that I needed to change the way I eat! I had successful surgery on April 21 and still 6 weeks later, my surgeon gave me the thumbs up. All better!

What the heck does this have to do with thrift? Well, when you eat a low fat diet for 12+ weeks, you lose weight – in my case, 25 lbs – which means none of my clothes fit anymore and you know what that means, right? I had to go thrift shopping!

I didn’t exactly buy a whole new wardrobe because that would just be silly but I have found a couple of core pieces to get me through the summer. I dug deep into my past life, i.e. grade 9 sewing, and altered a few favourites so that I can still wear them (like the MEC zipper pants I will take with me to Scotland next week!) But the one thing I really needed was a pair of jeans.

I love the pocket detail stitching on these Denver Hayes jeans.

What is it about jeans that makes them so hard to buy? I don’t know. I hit several thrift shops over the last few weeks and it wasn’t until yesterday, when I visited the evil-Value-Village in Langley that I finally found a pair that I quite like. I tried on 12 pairs of jeans. TWELVE. And while I really like the ones I got, I was choked that I had to pay $12.99 for them because I know that if the same pair had been donated to MCC or Bibles for Missions, I’d have paid $4 for them. Sigh.

Oh well, I shant dwell on it. I’m healthy –healthier, actually – I am grateful for family and friends who have supported me throughout this process. I have a job that provides me with great benefits that enabled me to live well while recuperating. Having trouble finding jeans is really a first world problem, right?

AND, I’m going to Scotland on Friday! This is our third visit to this amazing country. I have already noted all the thrift shops in the Outer Hebrides and will definitely visit at least one or two. I’ll blog about those experiences here.  Til then, tell me: what’s your essential travel piece of clothing – the thing you won’t leave home without?


Posted in alterations, clothing, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments