As their housing needs change with age, a group of Toronto women are turning to co-living, a community-focused housing option.
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg was thinking about aging. It was 2012, and her son had just called to tell her there was a documentary on CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition about La Maison des babayagas, or The Babayagas' House.
A new-build apartment building in Montreuil, one of Paris's eastern suburbs, it looks like any other complex from the outside: six storeys with a modular façade and 24 private studio units, plus ample shared spaces, including a gym, a library, a meeting room and a garden. But inside, the documentary revealed, its differences were clear. For starters, everyone who lives there is elderly and female. Like a mature activist sorority, it has overflowing bookshelves, community engagement, collective meals and regular workshops on topics ranging from nutrition to memoir writing.
The residence is characterized by a playful but radical joie de vivre; even the term "baba yaga," which means witch or crone in Slavic mythology, is a tongue-in- cheek tribute to society's enduring negative perceptions of unattached women, the "cat ladies" of yesteryear.
Purpose-built for single senior women to age in dignity and companionship, the entire project is a state-funded and self-administered intentional community— a residential option designed to emphasize social connections and to serve members who share a common lifestyle. "Women who live alone are often lonely, especially once most of their friends have died," says Dorothy, now 79. "It's the caring that appeals to me and to a lot of us."
A call to action
That's why, for women across Canada who tuned in to the documentary, or heard about it from friends or family, learning about La Maison des babayagas felt like a call to action. In fact, soon after the airing, a group of about a dozen women, most previously unacquainted, began meeting to discuss a potential Toronto project. Dorothy was one of them, of course. All of the women in the group were worried about their own prospects for aging, and it didn't take long for them to come to the same conclusion: This could be the perfect alternative to the lonely future often experienced by single senior women. A small steering committee formed and has now been working for nearly four years to gather the necessary funding and community partnerships to open its own version of the French residence, Baba Yaga Place. (Though there is one major difference: While the Toronto project will be primarily for women, since their need is greater, it will reserve a small number of units for men or married couples who believe in their philosophy.) There's still a long road ahead, but plans are certainly in the works.
Senior co-living has long been a compelling, if under-the-radar, option, both in Canada and abroad. Models vary significantly, from mixed-generation co-ownership models to more classic roommate arrangements. The first Canadian versions were technically cooperative housing projects that prioritized older women's housing needs without excluding other groups. Vancouver's Mature Women's Housing Co-op launched in the 1980s, followed by a 142-unit building in downtown Toronto that officially opened its doors in 1997, an initiative spearheaded by the Older Women's Network Ontario. Wolf Willow Cohousing, a 21-unit condominium that opened in Saskatoon in 2012, was the first official co-living project. Then, in 2014, 68-year-old Beverly Suek transformed her three-storey Winnipeg home into an "intentional community for senior women." (As you might expect, comparisons to The Golden Girls have been irrepressible.) "Everyone has her own life, but if you want to watch a movie or do some gardening, there's someone to do it with," says Beverly.
Demographics are partially responsible for driving interest among women. As in most of the world, many women in Canada outlive their male counterparts, with an average life expectancy of 84 years versus 80. According to the Canadian Labour Congress, 30 percent of senior women who reside alone live below the poverty line—twice the rate of senior men—so pooling resources makes sense.
"For women of my generation, we're finding that our situations aren't what we expected," says Beth Komito-Gottlieb, 61, who spent much of her professional life supporting those on the autism spectrum. "Our money's not going as far as we expected, our pensions aren't what we hoped and, often, our marriages have broken down."
Baba Yaga Place philosophy
The core pillars of Toronto's Baba Yaga Place project closely mirror those of the French model: self-management, feminism, interdependence, community engagement and environmental responsibility. In the CBC documentary, the women of La Maison des babayagas speak passionately about integrating their planned community into the broader neighbourhood and teaching the French language to new immigrants; their social-justice narratives spill beyond the gates.
Dorothy, who has worked with the National Film Board of Canada and lectured at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, still rides her bicycle around the city. She can excitedly discuss a wide variety of interests, including but not limited to her granddaughters, her exercise schedule and that time she marched against the Vietnam War, shoulder to shoulder with legendary pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock. Mostly, though, she speaks of her lifelong activism and dedication to community—a commitment shared by Dorothy's cohorts, whose biographies highlight advocacy work of all stripes, as well as volunteering at libraries, singing in choirs and caring for rescued pets. "We're not just a bunch of old ladies," says Dorothy. "We have a lot of history, and the idea of social responsibility follows us."
The baba yaga vision is a stark contrast to aging alone, with or without the grim institutional norms of hushed dining rooms and social isolation. Ellen Passmore, 66, works for Ve'ahavta, a charitable organization that addresses homelessness and poverty, and was drawn to the baba yaga idea after dealing with the private assisted-living facility where her 92-year-old mother lives. "With traditional seniors' facilities, there's a lot of isolation from the day-to-day life of the community," she says. "It's all about loss of independence, loss of autonomy, loss of decision-making, and it's a very medical model. It's very clear to me that I don't want to go down that route."
In fact, several of those on Toronto's Baba Yaga Place committee can cite a moment—a car accident or a medical issue—when they started to more seriously consider the increasingly practical need for close community. Two years ago, when Dorothy, who has a son in Montreal and a daughter in France, needed hip-replacement surgery, her children were concerned about her ability to cope on her own. They were each able to stay with her for a week, but then the baba yagas took over, drawing up a care schedule to ensure that all of her needs were met.
The baba yaga emphasis on co-care comes with the promise that the women will be living independently, but in a supportive community—they will have the option to eat meals together in communal areas, and they can feel at ease knowing that neighbours are on hand if, like Dorothy, they need help. "I'm most looking forward to having people I can count on," says Ellen, who currently lives in a co-op.
Andrew Moore, the president of the Canadian Senior Cohousing Society, says co-living options build on the idea of extended families looking after each other, and they support a whole range of communities who want to live in a similar way, including faith-based groups, condo dwellers and seniors helping seniors. "It's about being able to flourish until the end of your days," he says.
The challenges ahead
The Paris project took 13 years to come to fruition, from the moment it was conceived by founder Thérèse Clerc in 1999 until the day the doors opened in 2012. Baba Yaga Place is hoping to get the Toronto project off the ground in a much shorter period, but the logistical issues involved are myriad and will require both political advocates and financial support to subsidize the development of a potential property. The four million euros in funding for La Maison des babayagas came from multiple public sources and was a pet project of the then-ruling Green Party.
As a group, the baba yagas here at home don't have sufficient personal means to buy land in downtown Toronto and build a community from scratch. And they don't want this project to be exclusive to those with big bank accounts. Instead, they're looking at rental options—anywhere from 20 to 60 units in a retrofitted disused church or school to a couple of floors in a new building (such as the massive complex destined for Toronto's Mirvish Village). Affordable housing is a major obstacle, but the baba yagas would like to remain in the downtown core. "We don't want to move to some beautiful spot in the country where no one's ever going to see us again," says Beth.
Despite these challenges, the women, like the various founders of senior co-living projects before them, have tapped into the need for a compassionate alternative to our present models for aging, one in which vibrant and supportive community looms large. Interest is likely to grow as the population ages; that's why, though there's no timeline for the Toronto baba yaga house, there's also no doubt about the demand for one. "If we started accepting applications, we would be flooded," says Beth.
Image courtesy of Americo Original Image by: Image courtesy of Americo Original
Make a statement this season by knitting your own beautiful handbag with this free and simple pattern. There are endless combinations of colour and leather to personalize your perfect bag!
A knit bag is the perfect accessory—unique, practical, and stylish. The Salta Bag’s design begins with a simple rectangle that is folded and seamed to create a classic tote. The simplicity of the style and the thickness of the yarn make this pattern perfect for the beginner who wants to create a beautiful knit accessory on the first try.
The beauty of this bag is in the texture of the chunky yarn and its contrast to the smoothness of the leather handle. We chose to make the bag in Merino Copito, a 100% merino wool, thick-and-thin, roving-style yarn that makes for a light tote you can take anywhere. The leather handle adds style and practicality, while the artisanal quality guarantees your bag will look beautiful for years to come.
To ensure that the bag is sturdy, we used a felting technique that creates a dense fabric. When felting your bag, remember to do it in stages so you don’t end up accidentally felting it too much and losing the texture of the yarn. To sew on the handle, use a darning needle and sport or fingering weight yarn in a matching or contrasting colour.
Adding a liner to your bag is optional—the fabric becomes dense enough that the contents of your bag will stay inside. If you wish to add a liner, a simple trick is to use an old pillow case cut to size and sewed in place by hand after your bag has been felted.
- 5 Skeins Americo Merino Copito (100% Wool) 100 g / 43 yards (40 m)
- 12mm (US 17) size straight and 24-inch (60 cm) circular needles
- Darning Needle
- 1 Cannes Handle Set—(contains 2 leather/nylon pieces)
- Small amount of sport/fingering weight yarn (for sewing the leather)
Note about the yarn: Merino Copito is available through Americo Original online and in store. You can substitute any bulky weight 100% wool yarn from your stash. If substituting yarn, make sure to use 100% wool. Plant based and synthetic fibres will not felt.
Note about the leather: Americo leather accessories are available exclusively through Americo Original online and in select yarn stores. Americo leather accessories are designed and made in Toronto out of genuine, vegetable-tanned leather. All leather pieces are pre-punched for an easy, fool-proof application. You can choose between many different styles of leather, whatever suits your preferences! Alternatively, you could be creative and use any trimmings or ribbon—or recycle the handles from an old bag.
|Length||20 inches (50 cm)||16 inches (40 cm)|
|Width||22 inches (55 cm)||18 inches (45 cm)|
6.5 stitches = 4 inches in pattern with 12 mm (US 17) size needles or size needed to achieve gauge
With 12 mm (US 17) size straight needles cast on 35 stitches. Knit every row for 20 inches (50 cm). Cast off.
Fold the bag in half from cast-on edge to cast-off edge and sew the side seams. Along the bag opening, pick up and purl 48 stitches with 12 mm (US 17) 24-inch (60 cm) circular needles. Purl 6 inches (15 cm). Cast off.
Put piece in top-loading washing machine. You do not need to add soap or detergent. Using a low water level, run a cold cycle for 15 minutes. Put in a pair of jeans (in non-interfering colour) for extra agitation. After one cycle, check for size. Repeat as necessary. Run through the rinse and dry spin cycle. Lay felted piece onto a dry towel, away from direct heat or sunlight. Shape piece to correct measurements. Allow to dry thoroughly. Do not use a clothes dryer.
If an edge ripples, baste a thread through the edge and gather in. Remove the thread after the felting is dry.
Note: All washing machines will felt at different rates. It is always best to try felting a small swatch just to see how your machine will work. If it does not felt enough try putting it through twice. Front loaders are not generally appropriate for felting, as the cycle cannot be interrupted once started.
Sew the 2 leather/nylon handles in place on either side of the bag. The top of the Cannes leather piece will be approximately 1/2 inch from the top of the bag and centred while the bag is laying flat. Sew in loose ends.
You have spent a lot of time and care completing these items through their knitting and felting stages. A little thought to its aftercare will ensure that you will have these beautiful felted items for many years to come.
After you have subjected your item to the felting process, you may think that it has gone through the most vigorous and tortured wash that yarn could ever endure. Now you assume that you can throw that felted item into the hot wash cycle along with your sheets. Do not do it! Treat your newly felted item with caution and care in order to avoid further distortion or shrinkage.
Felted handmade items can always be improved with brushing if desired.
Even a slight pressing will give a smoother appearance to felted fabric. Always press lightly using a steam iron and a damp cloth. Never press down on the fabric but hold the iron just above the fabric.
Americo Original is a Canadian yarn company and online knitting shop that features a high-end selection of yarns, textiles, custom knitwear patterns and accessories. Only natural fibers, produced especially for us in the Andean highlands of South America are offered, including luxurious wools, llama, alpaca, organic and premium cottons, linen, silk and cashmere. Americo's one-of-a kind runway pieces and classic styles for the hand knitter are created in our design lab. Americo is based in Toronto, Canada and ships internationally from their online store: americo.ca/shop.
Follow Americo Orignal Inc. on Facebook, Instagram @americooriginal and Pinterest for daily knitting inspiration.
No one wants to feel hangry or get hit with a midday crash—but that doesn't mean you have to visit the office vending machine. Instead, curb hunger pangs with these healthier, expert-approved alternatives.
1. Swap: Microwave popcorn for cauliflower popcorn
Even light microwave popcorn can be loaded with sodium, trans fats (which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol) and artificial colours and flavours, says Kelowna, B.C.–based registered dietitian Tristaca Curley. Instead, cut a head of cauliflower into bite-size pieces, then roast in the oven with some olive or coconut oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. This low-calorie, folate- and potassium-rich sub is a satisfying twist on that movie-night favourite.
Photography by Angus Fergusson
2. Swap: Store-bought gorp for DIY trail mix
Ready-made trail mixes can be full of sugar and salt, so create your own snack of walnuts (the nut with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids), unsalted sunflower seeds, dried apple bits and unsweetened shredded coconut. Add chocolate chips for an extra hit of sweetness. "For a tart superfood top-up, add golden berries, which resemble golden raisins," says Toronto-based registered nutritionist Joey Shulman. "They're lower in sugar versus other small berries, and they contain linoleic and oleic acids, which help with fat oxidation." Or add resveratrol-rich mulberries for their antioxidant punch.
3. Swap: Potato Chips for kale chips
"Regular chips contain trans fatty acids, the bad fat that can lead to heart disease and elevated cholesterol," says Shulman. "This superfood alternative is loaded with vitamins A, C and K." Tear kale leaves into bite-size pieces (discard thick stems), toss with olive oil and salt, then roast until crisp.
4. Swap: Salted pretzels for roasted chickpeas
Sure, pretzels may be low in fat, but they're loaded with salt and have no real nutritional value, says Curley. For a crunchy alternative, try oven-roasted chickpeas. These legumes are high in fibre, protein and iron, making them an ideal "fill me up" snack. Toss together chickpeas, olive oil, sea salt and your favourite spice (think smoked paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper or garlic powder), then roast until golden brown and crunchy.
5. Swap: Cheese crackers for a seaweed snack
Most crackers are processed carbs laden with artificial colours, preservatives and other additives. "In their place, top a sheet of nori with some canned tuna, smoked salmon or a meat alternative, like grilled tofu," says Curley. The seaweed is super satisfying and guilt-free: There are only five calories per sheet. Plus, sea vegetables are full of vitamins A and C, calcium, iodine (essential for metabolism) and iron.
6. Swap: Chocolate pudding for avocado and cocoa pudding
Chocolate puddings can be drowning in high-fructose corn syrup. For a healthier treat, mash an avocado, then stir in two tablespoons each of cocoa powder and hemp seeds and a quarter cup of honey, says Curley. This pudding is low in sugar and a great source of monounsaturated fats, vitamin C and fibre.
7. Swap: Granola bars for energy balls
Granola bars can contain as much sugar, fat and refined carbs as a chocolate bar. "Instead, stir together a cup of oatmeal with half a cup each of nut butter, hemp seeds and dried fruit," says Curley. Maple syrup or honey will help it stick together. This homemade option is high in fibre and protein, low in sugar and free of additives.
8. Swap: Chips and dip for hummus and carrot or zucchini coins
Processed foods like chips can raise blood sugar, triggering a release in insulin, which then lowers blood sugar. In the short term, these highs and lows actually increase cravings; in the long run, they can lead to weight gain. Try this clever swap from Curley. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice carrots or zucchini into coins. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then bake until golden brown and crisp. Serve with a side of hummus. (Brownie points if it's homemade!)
9. Swap: Banana chips for a loaded banana
This snack is often coated in sugar and deep-fried to give it crunch, so choose a fresh banana, which is glycemic index–friendly, suggests Curley. (Foods with a low-GI value are digested more slowly, so they won't cause a spike in blood sugar.) Top the banana with two tablespoons of your favourite nut butter, then roll it in hemp seeds. "You'll get a slow, steady rise in your blood sugar, so you'll feel full for longer," says Curley. Plus, this satisfying switch-up delivers potassium, protein, iron and omega-3s.
10. Swap: Chocolate-covered almonds for apple rings with nut butter
Almonds are a great snack, but when they're coated with chocolate, they turn into a treat. For a healthier option, slice a cored apple into rings. Top each slice with natural peanut, cashew or almond butter and sprinkle with hemp seeds, which are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. "Apples are loaded with fibre and vitamin C," says Shulman. "Look for unprocessed nut butters; they're rich in good fats, which contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and monounsaturated fats."
Crunchy-Top Blueberry Muffins
Photography by Mark Burstyn Image by: Crunchy-Top Blueberry Muffins <br /> Photography by Mark Burstyn