PEOPLE & PLACES

At home with Megan Hutchings


Story by Katie Ryalen | Photos by Wynne Feret


We may be the suburbs, but our hometown talent is making big waves on the big screen. Local actress Megan Hutchings, who stars in the new BET legal drama In Contempt alongside international names like Erica Ash and Tobias Truvillion, has taken time out of an unquestionably busy day (at the time of our interview she had just cleared customs on her way to New York) to tell us what she has been up to, and what keeps bringing her back home.

Home for Megan is currently Whitby, but she grew up in Oshawa. For several years she travelled between her father’s home in Oshawa and Los Angeles before settling in Whitby. “I love being out of the city,” she says of suburban life. “Moving back home for the last couple of years has been really helpful for my career. I think I’ve been in a happier place since moving back here than I’ve been in a while.” Of course, it’s always a bit of a transition to come home when she has been out of the country for work, but the readjustment to our slower pace of life doesn’t take Megan long. She says, “Usually when I cross that Whitby border and get off the 401 I just feel a sense of home and belonging.”

When she is at home, Megan is a regular at Orange Theory Fitness in Whitby. She also enjoys yoga, and attends sessions at Power Yoga Canada in Oshawa and Shakti Connection in Whitby. In addition to her fitness classes, Megan enjoys taking her dogs to the nearby dog parks. A dedicated vegan, Megan enjoys some of the vegan and vegan-option restaurants that have opened up in our region such as The Lil Organic Kitchen, Berry Hill Food Company and Copper Branch. “I just kind of stay in my little bubble,” she says of her life in Whitby. “My few little restaurants, the dog park, and my yoga and workout classes.”

Megan is a staunch animal lover. She has two of her own dogs, a nine-year-old golden retriever and a five-year-old rescue maltipoo. Recently she also fostered a one-year-old German shepherd who was surrendered to her by a family that couldn’t care for her financially anymore. “I’ve always been an animal lover and advocate,” she says. “When I was living in the States, for the first couple of years I was bored and lonely, and I didn’t have a lot of fun without my family there. So I would go to the LA dog parks and try to hang out with the dogs instead. Then I started volunteering with Dogs without Borders, just helping to walk them and taking them to their appointments and such. As I got more involved in that, it filled my time.”

At home Megan volunteers with Save Our Scruff, a charity that provides care and rehabilitation for stray, abandoned or displaced dogs. She also volunteers with Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, which is a farm sanctuary in Uxbridge. “I find that very rewarding,” she says. “With my career, when you’re not working you can feel very down on yourself. But what makes me happy and what I’m passionate about is definitely animals.” She is also the founder of Dreams of Rescue, a not-for-profit organization that makes personalized dream catchers. “All the proceeds from that go to animal shelters,” Megan says.

With such an active love of animals, it is no surprise that Megan is vegan. For her, it is a lifestyle choice which has evolved since childhood. “Ever since I was little I would go back and forth between eating meat,” she explains. “My grandma and grandpa had a farm when I was growing up, so I would see the cows and the horses and all the animals, and I fell in love with them. And then later we’d be eating a chicken burger and I would think, ‘Where does this come from?’ Over the last couple of years I had turned that into veganism, but I would occasionally cheat and put maybe cream in my coffee or something.” It was an experience in Portugal three years ago with a frightened little piglet that convinced her to rededicate herself to veganism. “It’s not that easy,” she admits. “I will sometimes accidentally buy products that are tested on animals. It all takes mindfulness, research and trial and error, and I just do the best that I can.”

Acting is something that Megan has been interested in from a young age. “I always wanted to be an actress, even before I knew it,” she says. “I did well in school, but I often felt like a fish out of water.” It was discovering drama class that allowed Megan to find her niche and her future career. “From there I got really lucky,” she explains. “I was taken on by an awesome agent in Toronto, and she threw me out there. Then I landed my first recurring role on a show called The Smart Woman Survival Guide. From there it’s just been a lot of classes and lots of auditions.”

Although acting may seem like a glamorous career to those of us who watch the final product on screen, Megan considers it to be just what she does. “Everyone thinks they don’t do anything special, and that’s like me,” she says. “You get used to what you’re doing and it becomes normal.” She admits that when she is not working, it becomes difficult not to wonder if she should be doing something else with her life. “I always feel like there is so much more I want to do,” she says. But ultimately it is being back home and having that suburban stability that helps her feel at peace and that she has a happy, healthy home life.

Megan has a number of recurring roles on her resume including The Smart Woman Survival Guide, The LA Complex, and Reign. She notes that it is amazing to be on set and to have such high profile jobs, but that the hours are long and the work is hard. “It can be intimidating, too,” she adds. “I come onto a set like Reign with the costumes and the period pieces, and these people are all amazing to work with and they’re really great. But they’ve already got these established working relationships, and I’m coming into it new. It can be really scary. Especially because in my line of work people are judging you. They’re judging your work, your hair, your body, your face—it can be overwhelming at times.”

But Megan Hutchings is a pro, and her career has led to some amazing experiences. For example, at the time of this interview, she had just cleared customs at the airport on her way to New York where she would be participating with the cast of In Contempt in a panel called Color of Change. “Our show is about the public justice system and dealing with clients who are often suppressed and forgotten about,” she says, “so it will be a panel where people can share their stories of oppression and injustice, and we will be weighing in on the discussion.”

Around town, Megan likes to visit:
● Harmony Dog Park, North Whitby Dog Park, Heber Down Conservation Area and the Oshawa Lakefront Path with her two dogs
● Poweryoga Canada and Shakti Connection for her yoga fix
● Orange Theory Fitness to keep in shape
● Lil Organic Kitchen, Berry Hill Food Co. and Copper Branch for vegan fare
● North End Bowl to unwind and have fun



Megan’s Charities
Megan is a strong advocate for animal welfare, rescues and shelters. She is the founder of the non-profit organization Dreams of Rescue where she creates personalized dream catchers with all proceeds donated to a shelter or a rescue. She is also a volunteer for Save Our Scruff, a non-profit dog rescue and re-home charity located in Toronto and Southern Ontario and Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, a former cattle ranch that has been turned into a farm sanctuary located in Uxbridge, Ontario.

A Stitch in Time


Story by Glynis Ratcliffe | Photos by Kirsten McGoey


It’s fair to say that Durham is in the midst of a handmade, small business renaissance. There’s a good chance at least a few of those businesses came into being because of Rebecca Munn, whose business is bursting at the seams. The exterior of Munn’s business looks just like any of the other homes on this street, but once you descend the stairs, her passion for teaching people to sew – from the fundamentals of hemming pants to creating a capsule wardrobe – is evident. A giant chalkboard fills one wall, with swatches of fabrics hanging next to each written name. The perimeter of the room is lined with long tables and dotted by sewing machines and regular intervals.

Munn began learning to sew at the ripe old age of six, when her mother put her into lessons. “Other kids were learning to dance or ride horses, and there I was, sewing. You can guess how that went,” she quips. It was obvious she was in her element, however, because she had completed all the children’s lessons available by age 11, and the adult lessons by age 14. At that point, her sewing school simply didn’t know what more to do with her.

A Durham-sponsored business plan competition caught her eye when she was 16, and while she didn’t win the first year, Munn rewrote the plan and did win the following year, at 17. That business – teaching sewing classes to children – was one she came back to each summer to help put her through college. She studied and later worked in advertising in downtown Toronto, but soon realized her heart wasn’t in it. She had become so busy making a living, she no longer had time to do the one thing she loved more than anything. Getting married and starting a family changed everything for her, and it was a chance to reboot her life.

Enter sewing.

Munn used her time at home with her new baby to create a line of baby wearing wraps, which soon became successful enough that she moved the business into her own space, in Oshawa. She wanted to start teaching again, and also wanted to finally create her own clothing line, which the new space would allow her to do. Both the teaching and the clothing were a resounding success, but her love of teaching won out.

This motherhood pivot, from a less-fulfilling career to an entirely new, dream career, is one she loves to see women make. As such, Munn will occasionally hold business and networking nights for students who have gone on to start their own businesses, giving out advice when she’s able. She also goes on field trips with her students to fabric stores and sales that are a little more exotic than the local Fabricland, and has a thriving Facebook community.

These days, Rebecca Munn’s large Whitby basement is home to 22 adult classes – each filled with 10 students – a week, as well as an additional 36 kids who take one-off classes. That’s more than 250 students! Clearly, word is getting out.

Classes
It really doesn’t matter whether you’ve been sewing pillow shams your whole life, or the thought of hemming your pants gives you hives – there’s a class for you. Each class generally lasts five weeks, and there are times on the weekends, daytime and evening, to suit your needs. The one exception to that is the Stitch & Bitch nights, which are single, three-hour classes which focus on completing just one project. Classes are offered on a rotating basis, since there are far more available than she has time to teach. So, if you don’t see what you’re looking for this month, check the calendar over the next few months. Chances are, it’ll be back soon.

Many of the classes offered are progressive, which makes it easy to build on what you know with each session. In addition to these basic and intermediate classes, however, are more targeted classes that cover making kids clothing, dressmaking, clothes for dudes, and upcycling your clothing to create new designs. And the kids’ classes have them making fun things like plush stuffies and doll clothes. There’s even a mommy and me sweater class that you can take with your child.

Wide Appeal
One of the most incredible things about Rebecca and her business is the wide array of people it attracts. Women of all ages, children, and yes, men can be found in her classes. Not just the Sewing for Dudes class, either. Sure, it’s great to be able to sew your own boxers, but the Tailoring class attracts plenty of men as well; likely because it feels pretty great to be able to hem your own pants and sleeves, instead of paying someone else to do it.

She believes all of this popularity is a kind of push back against the rise of fast fashion in the last decade. When they attend a class taught by Munn, “people begin to understand the value of what they buy and wear,” she says. “They start to appreciate why a nice sweater costs $55 or $65 dollars – it takes a lot of work!” And yes, no matter where you purchase an item of clothing, someone made it.

She has a sparkle in her eye when she says, quietly, “I feel like I’m training the next generation of makers.” And it’s likely that the joy she finds from empowering others is what is at the core of her success. It inspires everyone around her, and what more could you want in a teacher?

Learn more at
Website https://www.rebeccamunn.com/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rebeccamunnco
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/rebeccamunnco/


Sustainable Vegetable Gardening


Story & Photos by Veronica Sliva


The supermarkets are jam packed with more types of vegetables than ever before, both those we are familiar with and more exotic varieties that come from far away. Why bother growing your own? The answer is simple, nothing is fresher or more local than what you grow yourself and you can avoid the pesticides and herbicides used in conventional farming.

Where to begin? Consider what type of a garden you want to tend and make it as sustainable as possible. “Sustainable”, what does it mean? I haven’t found any universal technical definition, but when it comes to vegetable gardening I subscribe to the concept of using practices that cause no harm to the earth.


Start with the Soil
The condition of your soil determines the success of your garden. Healthy soil has a balance of soil particles, organic humus, water and good air circulation to allow the plants’ roots to absorb the nutrients required to grow well. The best way to improve your soil is to add organic matter or compost. The most sustainable compost is one you make yourself. An excellent guide on making compost can be found here https://savvygardening.com/compost-how-to-guide-based-on-science/. Depending on the size of your garden you may not have enough of the homemade stuff, called “black gold” by many gardeners. Nowadays you can have compost delivered by a reliable landscape suppliers (in Durham Region who I like is Arnt’s The Landscape Supplier http://www.arntstopsoil.com/premium-14-compost/). The compost is delivered right to your driveway by the cubic yard in a very large bag. Or, you can go and pick it up yourself (in smaller quantities).

Define your Garden Space
Using raised beds is a great way to grow vegetables, especially if your garden soil isn’t very fertile or has poor drainage. Most vegetables need full sun to thrive, so you will want to keep that in mind when situating your garden. Full sun means 6 full hours of direct sunlight. Those six hours can be anytime during the day.

Raised Beds
Almost any vegetable can be grown in raised beds except for potatoes and corn. Potato roots need a lot of room, and corn grows so high that harvesting would be difficult. A raised bed is typically built on top of the ground using timber, bricks or anything that can contain at least 12 inches of soil. A 12 inch- deep bed provides enough room for most root vegetables, such as carrots. The soil in raised beds warms up more quickly in spring so planting can be done earlier. And, if the bed is 3 feet or less, there is no need to step on the soil and thus less chance of compacting the soil. Plants grow better in loose soil.

Pots and Containers
You can also plant your veggies in pots or containers. The larger the container, the better (half wooden barrels work great). Tomatoes, peppers and salad crops such as lettuce and other greens can be very successful. Don’t use soil from the garden. It is too heavy and will become compacted. Instead, buy a good soilless mix designed for container gardening. You’ll need to fertilize and water more often than growing in the ground.

Interplanting Among Ornamentals
Instead of a designated vegetable garden, you can plant your veggies amongst the blooms in your borders. Asparagus, for example, is a perennial plant that comes up every year. If you don’t harvest all the shoots the ferny foliage results in a lovely froth of green. Lettuce and other salad plants are available in a wide variety of colours and form. They make a pretty edging for a flower bed. Intermingle tomatoes with your ornamentals. They can be grown anywhere there is full sun. For inspiration, browse through seed catalogues. Seed catalogues usually offer good gardening advice too. Some of my favourite seed sources are:
William Dam Seeds http://www.damseeds.ca/productcart/pc/home.asp
Vesey’s https://www.veseys.com/ca/
Stokes Seeds http://www.stokeseeds.com/home.aspx
Ontario Seed Company https://www.oscseeds.com/

Seed or transplants?
It’s your choice. If you are going to start plants from seeds, some types must be started early indoors so that they have enough time to grow to maturity over the growing season. Check the label for advice. In spring, garden centres sell young vegetable plants such as tomatoes and peppers that are ready for the garden. Salad greens, however, are easy to start directly outdoors from seed and they grow very quickly, so you can sow several crops in one season.

Save Seed
If you want to harvest your own seeds, you must allow the plant to form seeds. There are two types of seeds to consider…dry seeds like those from a bean plant or wet seeds like those from a tomato. It is easy to harvest dry seed. The seed is contained in a capsule of some kind (such as a bean or pea pod). When the capsule turns brown and dry, it means the seed is ripe. Simply drop the capsule into a paper bag and wait a few weeks. It will open on its own and the seeds will fall out. Other veggies, such as lettuce and radishes, must be left “go to seed” after the plant flowers and then collected when dry. Seeds found inside fleshy fruits such as a tomato (yes, a tomato is considered a fruit) are harvested when the tomato is fully ripe. Harvest the seed by cutting the fruit open and extracting the seeds with your fingers or tweezers. Then wash off all traces of flesh (a tea strainer works for this). Dry the seeds for a few days and then store them in paper envelopes in a cool dry place until next year.

The Power of Mulch
Mulch is your best friend. Whether it is compost, straw, leaves or other organic matter, think of mulch as a blanket around your plants that shelters the soil from extreme conditions, such as cold snaps, hot and dry weather and fierce winds. Mulch keeps the soil from drying out and stops weed seeds from germinating. This means less work for you. Compost, leaves and other organic mulches eventually break down and provide nutrients for the soil. This makes for better soil and healthier plants.

Conserve Water
Water is important for growing good gardens, but as gardeners we should be wise about how we do it. The goal is to use enough, but not waste our precious resources. Here are some ways to make better use of our water supply:
● Add organic matter to your soil to increase the soil’s ability to absorb and retain moisture.
● Water the soil, not the leaves. Sprinklers waste a lot of water as it evaporates into the air.
● When you water, do so thoroughly. Soak the soil so that it permeates right down to the roots to keep the soil moist longer.
● Use rain barrels to collect and store rainwater from the roof. Because rainwater contains no chlorine, lime, or calcium, it is ideal for watering gardens. During times of watering bans in dry weather it may be the only way you can water to your garden.

Welcome to the (Yoga) Jungle


Story by Alex Durell | Photos by Kirsten McGoey


One of my resolutions for 2018 has been to challenge myself to try new things, and kick myself into high gear more often. It’s easy to remain in our comfort zones, but I know it’s important to continually evolve to stay engaged, interested, and healthy. When was the last time you tried something new, got your adrenaline running, or stepped outside your comfort zone? It doesn’t have to be something like sky diving (although, hey, maybe I’ll give that a go, too!), it just has to be something new. It’s with this, “Say YES!” attitude that I’ve approached this year, and so far, the results have been rewarding.

I’d been told about aerial yoga, and one night, I found myself in the beautiful, twinkling studio staring at suspended hammocks (silks) at Yoga Jungle in Bownmanville. From the moment you enter the studio, you’re met with a sense of calm. The industrial space has been transformed into a clean, fresh, and bright studio. White and reminiscent of the tropics, it’s like inhaling that first smell when you exit an airplane mid-winter, but exit in a warm location. There is a backdrop of tiny lights, and as the sun set, we climbed into the beautiful hammocks under the direction of owner and teacher Jenna Richards.

Now, I’m not a very active person these days, so this was pretty far outside my comfort zone. I’m a busy mom of young kids, I spend eight hours a day at an office desk, and truthfully, working out isn’t a priority for me. Yoga can be daunting, and involving a suspended hammock while relying on my balance to support poses seemed beyond my skill level. It’s been a long time since I stepped onto a yoga mat, and I admit that the idea of yoga inside a hammock really intimidated me. Would I fall out? Could I even get myself inside one? Could I really get my leg up there? Not only that, but I was rolling solo to an intimate class where people may already be friends, and isn’t that always a little scary? I think so. Turns out, all my apprehension was unnecessary. You need no experience at all to start these classes.

I took a deep breath, put on my leggings, grabbed my water bottle and headed to class. The moment I walked into the “jungle”, I felt relieved. Yoga Jungle is such a welcoming environment – Jenna greets all her guests warmly, inviting them to choose a hammock over a mat where we’ll spend the next hour reversing the effects of gravity on the body, through inversions (being upside down), back-bends, and handstands. There were other newbies just like me, so we chatted nervously together, and the more experienced people reassured us we’d love the class. Jenna’s voice is calm and reassuring, and she’s readily available to help with any poses. Gentle music plays during the class, and I could feel my heart rate drop and breathing become deeper.

Despite the stretches being deep, gentle, and satisfying, every pose we did felt a lot like child-like play… something I hadn’t done in a very long time. Just the act of dangling upside down, blood rushing to my head was a little disconcerting the first time. Trusting in the hammocks and acclimating to the gentle sway when you’re enveloped inside one comes quickly, and the results are felt immediately. The final few minutes of class, when Jenna guides us through quiet meditation, were the most relaxing moments I’ve felt in months! Even after just one class, I could feel improvement in my balance and coordination, and I felt rejuvenated.

The act of challenging myself gave me a sense of pride at the end of the class; I can see how the positions and gentle movement could help with issues like back pain, circulation challenges, and general well-being – it felt like I was stretched out, decompressed, and maybe just a wee bit straighter and taller. Let’s face it, when sitting for eight hours a day is a bigger threat to our wellbeing than smoking, well, throwing a bit of yoga into our lives is a great idea. Being given the opportunity to tune out the world, let anxiety and worries drift away, and just be is something our busy lives often don’t allow. But that’s what you’ll find at Yoga Jungle.

There are a lot of other benefits to aerial yoga in particular that Richards is happy to share with the newbies in the class. She herself has experienced many of those first-hand: improved immunity and circulation, reduced stress, improved muscle tone. As we age, we move and play less, and flexibility is drastically reduced. The gentle movements in the class were simultaneously energizing and relaxing – they really get the blood flowing. But I think what I loved the most was how I felt so accomplished after just one class. I did it, I really did it! And now I can’t wait to go back.

Yoga Jungle
Yogajungle.ca