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March 2013

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Women of the Week: Jelena Pticek and Karen Carrillo

What would you consider an empire?

If you ask Jelena Pticek, she and partner Karen Carrillo do not own an empire “in the material sense of the word.” This despite the fact that they collectively oversee multiple companies: Koocoo Carrillo, Poppyseed Creative Living, Freedom Clothing Collective and Freedom Reconstructed.

Koocoo Carrillo, run by Karen, is a clothing line featuring hand-crafted, limited-edition pieces; Poppyseed Creative Living, run by Jelena, is a “furniture ‘reinterpreting’ business,” using yard or antique sale finds; Freedom Clothing Collective, a joint project, is a co-op for local artists; and Freedom Reconstructed, also a collaborative venture, is a line of refurbished goods.

Before joining forces, both women originally worked corporate jobs. According to Karen, “it was depressing not to be able to illicit helpful change, or not having a say or, worst of all, seeing all the waste (garbage and time).”

Jelena, too, never felt at ease in the corporate world.  “I knew that the only way I would be able to correct this is if I changed something about it,“ Jelena explains.

Not surprisingly, both call their decision to quit and become entrepreneurs as the highlight of their careers. It would prove to be a great decision, both from a personal and work-related standpoint.

“We both often stop to admire the store and how far it’s come. The we-made-this bit is pretty thrilling, and everyday at least one customer tells us what a lovely store we have, and it never gets old!”

Not stopping at just running a successful independent business, Jelena and Karen are working to ensure their company is one with the proper social mores.

“We strive to be Locally and Environmentally focused,” says Jelena. “With Poppyseed Creative Living my goal was to appeal to the audience with strong environmental sense but also with the desire to surround themselves with items that are unique in their nature.”

By selling products that are refurbished or, at the very least, eco-friendly, Jelena and Karen can feel good about their company, knowing that they are making a difference. This is vital in a society that is becoming more and more eco-aware.

As Karen, the driving force behind the company’s environmental focus, explains, “Newcomers love to hear about how we are affecting change.”

This eco-friendly attitude extends across the company, from the products to the marketing. “Via marketing we often do small craft shows and we always use recycled or reused objects, either paper for printing business cards or flyers (which we keep to a minimum) or packaging, or displays, our toilet paper is even post consumer,” Karen says.

Clearly, the brains behind the Freedom Clothing Collective have created a company that will flourish in the coming seasons. Yet even as they work to save the world (and run a successful business), both women manage to balance their priorities and keep their heads on straight. The secret?

Although life will get chaotic, says Jelena, “It comes down to identifying priorities, making compromises with yourself and adjusting your own expectations.”

My family: Betrayal and addiction

While most people have loving and stable family lives, mine was not. The fact is that both my parents are alcoholics. My father is the worst, drinking anything that contains alcohol. Then there are his bouts of exhibitionism. However, unlike my siblings I did not grow up with them. There are four children in my family, including me, but I actually grew up with my grandparents on Vancouver Island, B.C. When I did eventually come to Toronto I was thrown into a lifestyle and culture shock that was devastating to me. I was just a young girl from the country, I had never seen this kind of addiction. It became a nightmare.

My parents are what you would call “binge drinkers.” They maintained their lives for months at a time, going to work and acting like they were just like everyone else, sometimes better. Then something would affect one of them and the drinking would begin. This would go on for weeks at a time. My younger sister was also in the home. However, she grew up in this madness so it was all she knew.

It was impossible for us to live like normal teenagers. We were kept up all night long with their drinking and sickness, so we could not attend school. There were many fights between them involving my sister and me. Finally, I had enough and decided to leave home. My sister never forgave me for leaving her, which still pulls at my heartstrings to this day. However, I didn’t know where I was going, so I couldn’t drag her along.

Eventually, I carved out a life for myself and vowed never to be like my parents. However, alcohol addiction, like other addictions, is powerful. It usually runs in families. I had a period where I fought those addictions myself.

I kept in touch with my parents off and on through the years, but always hated my father.

In the last few months my brother and I saved my mother’s life. My brother and I found her on the floor in her apartment with my father still drinking. My brother, sister and I tended to her for months at the hospital. My sister took her in when she was released and awaiting a home. Shortly after, she was put into a beautiful care facility where all her needs would be met. In the back of our minds we knew the addiction would win, but didn’t want to admit she would betray us. Eventually, she left the home, her family and everything she had to return to her addiction.

 

TRAVEL: The Darien Gap is no man’s land

By Tania LaCaria

With his backpack strapped on tightly, he traipsed through the humid, overgrown jungle greenery. Careful not to slip on algae-covered boulders, he watched his right foot move in front of his left, never taking his eyes off the ground. Suddenly he felt a jarring shock to his system; he’s thrown to the ground from behind. They pulled his backpack off his arms, tied his wrists, shoved their hands into his pockets and pushed his face into the wet earth. He knew the Darién Gap was a dangerous place, but he was certain he could cross without injury.

Men shouted at him in local tongue, pushing barrels of their machine guns into the back of his head. They wanted his money, his cell phone, and his shoes, but they were careful not to take the GPS he was using – it could lead authorities back to them. As he lay there in his sweat-soaked shorts and soiled t-shirt, he knew he had made a mistake attempting to cross the infamous Darién Gap.

The Darién Gap is not accessible by any road, bus, train or plane for a reason. It is a dangerous place where many curious travelers are left to perish under the thick tropical tree coverage – most of whom end up victims of violent guerilla crimes.

A 48,000 kilometre-long stretch of paved road called the Pan-American Highway will take you all the way through North, Central and South America; except, of course, once you hit the Darién Gap – 321 kilometres of highly dangerous land between south-eastern Panama and north-western Columbia.

The Darién Gap has gained notoriety as a kind of “no-man’s land”. The lack of accessibility should come as a warning to travelers; sure, the Pan-Am highway drops off before the Gap on either end in order to preserve the natural environment, respect the indigenous tribes that live in the Gap and to prevent trafficking of drugs from Columbiainto Panama. The more important reason, however, is that it simply isn’t safe to travel through.

The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) guerilla group has been present in the Darién Gap for years, and now, they are virtually unbeatable. The horror stories of muggings, kidnappings and murders almost always trace back to the FARC – this dangerous group now seems to “run” the entire Darién Gap on a platform of fear.

Being a traveler that prefers to err on the side of caution, the thought of crossing the Gap has never entered my mind. But that doesn’t mean I cannot empathize with the curiosity travelers share. What does it look like? How much fear-mongering is the media responsible for? How do the villagers live? I suppose these questions will remain unanswered (for myself) for quite some time.

In the meantime, I will re-direct my quest for first-hand worldly knowledge and curiosity elsewhere — preferably to a destination that will not leave my loved ones muttering, “Curiosity killed the cat.”

 

 

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Weird Wichita Winners

Sometimes you just have to wonder what people are thinking, don’t you? Sometimes people do the nuttiest things and you just have to shake your head in amazement. What were they thinking?

There are two brothers in Wichita, Kansas, who recently won $75,000 in a lottery. They decided to celebrate by amassing what was probably a pretty big amount of marijuana and perhaps other celebratory substances.

According to the Wichita Eagle via Huffington Post, they ran into trouble when:

One of the brothers went to the kitchen to refuel the butane torches they planned to use to light their bongs. He emptied a couple of large cans of butane lighter fluid, leaking butane into the air. “The butane vapour reached the pilot light in the furnace, and as you might expect, ka-boom,” Wichita Police Sgt. Bruce Watts said at a press conference.

This bright bulb brother suffered second degree burns to his hands and face. Luckily for him, his girlfriend was able to drive him to the hospital. It’s not known how long they’d been dating, but she just dropped him off at the door and sped away. She hasn’t been seen since, which makes her somewhat smarter than her ex-boyfriend.

The other brother was arrested on drug charges after telling police he had meth and marijuana in the home. I wonder if they were twins or were just blessed with the same sized brains.

Watch this video to hear all the juicy details of this bizarre escapade.

Please don’t think I’m faulting these two sad brothers for celebrating. If I’d won $75,000 I’d be celebrating too. But I’m pretty sure I’d know to keep flammable gasses pretty far away from an open flame or pilot light. Good thing they didn’t have a gas stove with four gas pilot lights. That would have been a quadruple ka-boom.

Have you ever filled a lighter with lighter fluid? The smell of the gasses is unmistakable and it’s very strong. You can’t miss it. Unless you had a really stuffed up nose, you’d have to realize what was going on here and to me, it’s just a short step to realizing that those gases could go anywhere in the air.

For example, you would never fill your lighter right next to a burning cigarette in an ashtray, right? So wouldn’t you also realize that the gases might reach the flame on your furnace located nearby too? I’m no fire fighter, but that’s pretty basic knowledge I think. But it seems I’m mistaken, at least about these two brain-challenged brothers.

I wish I had a conclusion to this story to share with you, but since this stunt only happened a few days ago, there’s no word of if the brothers have learned their lesson. Nor is there any word about what happened to all of their celebratory substance or how much, if any, money they had left of their $75,000 winnings.

I hope they had enough left to get in a big stock of alcohol. It’s way safer.

 

©2013 Marcia Barhydt