About Me

Welcome! My name is Christine and I'm a visual artist, musician, and storyteller. After my marriage, I worked with at-risk teens/families, volunteered on the Winnipeg crisis lines, participated in starting up a family resource center, completed my BA, furthered my studies towards becoming an art therapist, managed homes for adults living with disabilities, and facilitated therapeutic music/art sessions. Over time, however, I began to burn out and my son's needs continued to make it clear that my fulltime work is to help him navigate the world in which we live. I'm a single Mom of two beautiful, grown daughters and a lovely adult son who lives with various diagnoses. I'm also "Nana" to two beautiful little women and two heartwarming young men. I choose to practise gratefulness every day. I choose to live mindfully and to live a meaningful life. This blog is about meeting life in the most basic and, in my opinion, rewarding of ways - by focusing on the riches of simplicity. If you're a new visitor to my blog, you might be interested in starting with reading this entry first: Finding the Riches. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Canada's Food Guide

When I was younger, Canada's Food Guide seemed to be considered by many around me as the epitome of nutritional information. I was fascinated by it, especially while learning which foods fit into which category. It was a good learning tool for exploring the basics of food-categorization and for learning the importance of nutrition.

Among my primary guides today are http://www.nutritiondata.com for providing nutritional data along with glycemic/inflammation information, and sites providing information regarding acid-forming and alkaline-forming foods:


For many things in life, I believe in the importance of embracing as well as balance. When it comes to food, however, I aim for mostly-alkaline with good glycemic/inflammation rating. I don't eat only alkaline-forming foods, but when I choose something that isn't clearly in that category, I do so to maintain a healthy alkaline/acid balance*, for nutritional value otherwise, and in small amounts. I do make a general exception when it comes to eating with friends, though it's been interesting to note that there are some foods which no longer hold interest for me and some that are much less of a draw than they used to be. Pretty cool, huh?

* Example: "To maintain health, the diet should consist of 60% alkaline forming foods and 40% acid forming foods.  To restore health, the diet should consist of 80% alkaline forming foods and 20% acid forming foods. Generally, alkaline forming foods include: most fruits, green vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, spices, herbs and seasonings, and seeds and nuts.
Generally, acid forming foods include: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, grains, and legumes."

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Lake-aholic me

I wish I could do justice in showing the lake in its splendor: the textures of the frozen ripples of water, snow and ice; the subtle shifts in shades of blues and greys and whites.

Dragon's Teeth 
 One of many nature-made quinzhees along the shoreline
I continue to be in awe of the wonders of beauty when I look out over the lake. There
are so many shades in the sky and across the snow and ice. I remain grateful and inspired.

 The vast variety of textures along the shoreline and across the surface of the lake are humbling and make me feel transported to an entirely different existence.


What To Do With Chia Seed

 I've had some emails lately from folks who are hesitant to use chia because they either don't know what to do with it or struggle with the taste/texture of having it with just water and aren't sure what else to do with it. This afternoon I was about to put together one of my favourite chia combinations and decided I'd share it with you :-)

Here's my chia seed in a bowl. When I make something with chia, I usually use about 3 Tablespoons.
Then I add water, usually about a cup.

 It only takes a minute or so before it starts to gel.
  After a few minutes its consistency is similar to oatmeal, though the texture is very different. It can also be left to soak overnight.
 For one of my all-time favourite chia dishes, I add in hemp hearts and milled flaxseed.
Then I add in tomato juice, and tadaa! (Sometimes I soak the chia seeds in the tomato juice instead of water, but I often do the water for the added hydration.) Mmmm, healthy tomatoey goodness that hits the spot and packs a great nutritional whallop: calcium, protein, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, fibre, omegas, hydration, amino acids, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, etc., etc., etc. No cooking, takes moments to prepare. Pretty cool, huh? 

Chia is also great for smoothies, in a variety of dishes either dry or soaked, and in drinks such as Chia Fresca. The seeds are small so they're easily swallowed and offer so many nutritional benefits that I won't go into here but are easily found online. All the best!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Morning Shift

Life has shifted.

Fall of 2013 has been the first season in his entire life when my son has been consistently getting up on his own in the mornings (and not at 4am as in years gone by) and getting dressed and ready for the day independently. I'm very proud of him.

For me, this has meant a major shift. Mornings are now quiet. Peaceful. And I now have the luxury of getting up on my own schedule rather than being woken by someone else's morning displeasures that continue until they leave the house - and sometimes beyond ;-) 

What a change! And very healing for the body, mind, and soul.

Calm and peace are first on my list in the morning. I often find myself coming out of a dream when I become aware of being awake in the morning, though not always. Sometimes I take a bit of time to remember what I've dreamt about but otherwise I start my exercises by watching the tree branches outside my window.


After a quick washroom break, I clean my teeth (baking soda, water, sometimes coconut oil, sometimes a natural toothpaste), and drink either a glass of plain water or water with baking soda. Then I move into the rest of my morning. My exercise time is for body, mind, and spirit. I meditate, do various stretches, exercise my focus, take time for creative free-flow thought, exercise my breathing, and purposely take time to feel a sense of wonder.
Then I indulge in my first breakfast. I'm a big fan of "smoothies" because I can toss all sorts of good stuff into the blender and drink it down: http://richesofsimplicity.blogspot.ca/2013/11/toss-anything-in.html.

This morning's first breakfast started with a pumpkin smoothie (frozen,/cooked pumpkin, banana, water, chia seed, dehydrated kale, dehydrated spinach, maple syrup, cinnamon) followed by almonds followed by tomato juice:

My second breakfast was mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans) that had been soaked (from dried) then cooked, mashed raw garlic mixed in with the chickpeas, cucumbers slices, and green tea.

My son is usually up by the time I've had or am having my second breakfast, and then our day together begins.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Toss Anything In!

Turmeric, dehydrated spinach, dehydrated kale, baking soda, dehydrated pumpkin,
frozen organic strawberries, organic banana, pomegranate juice
Almonds, dates, ground flaxseed, chia seed, hemp seed, cinnamon, water
I've had my share of discovered lumps over the years and tire of the waiting and the angst and everything involved in the medical procedures just to have lumps assessed. I've also lived with a generous share of stressors over the years. For all those reasons and many more, including my three wonderful children and my four beautiful grandchildren, I am very mindful of what I put into my body. I haven't always been mindful throughout my lifetime, but I sure am these days.
I really enjoy blending together healthy drinks. I get such a kick out of being able to toss in all sorts of good stuff and just drink it all down. For someone who wants to ingest certain foods on a daily basis, blended drinks are definitely a prime consideration. Every day, in addition to other fruits and vegetables, I aim to have quinoa, turmeric, baking soda, greens, a banana, pumpkin, ground flaxseed, maple syrup, a few nuts, chia seed, hemp hearts, and cinnamon - all of which are easily tossed into a blender. Sometimes I use various green/ herbal/organic teas in my drinks instead of nut milk, water, or juice. And to retain nutrients, I've also been eating most fruits and vegetables more frequently in their raw (usually dehydrated) form rather than cooked.
I also try to eat a bit of cacao each day as well as a bit of honey and a bit of coconut oil. I've tried taking apple cider vinegar every day and really, really struggle with the taste - my face contorts to a point where it might never return to its regular appearance. The health benefits will draw me back to trying it again at some point. I often use blackstrap molasses as a food supplement but I don't usually do so on a daily basis.
I consider the above to be the necessities in my daily eating. I usually try to get all that good stuff into me in the mornings and then fill in with other foods throughout the rest of the day. (That's not to say I don't eat other foods. I enjoy an occasional burger or eggs/toast or "Chinese" food when friends come to visit, and an occasional sandwich or "treat" with my son, etc.) I get my protein primarily through hemp, beans (bought dry then soaked and cooked), chia seed, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. My calcium comes primarily from my chia seed, almonds, molasses, chickpeas, quinoa, and vegetables. And "vitamin" D? When not absorbing it outside during non-winter sunny days, I get a whopping hit of it from the hemp hearts.
Some folks have asked how I can afford to buy hemp hearts, chia seed, almonds, etc. It's all about choices. For example, I use Hemp hearts as one of my primary protein sources. One 454g bag costs me approximately $15. That amount of money doesn't buy very much meat these days. I eat 30g -60g of hemp hearts a day, though usually just 30. Here's a link providing nutritional information about hemp hearts: http://manitobaharvest.com/product/206/Hemp-Hearts-454g.html
When I cut out meat purchases, processed food, etc., I found that a big chunk of my grocery budget had been going into my body without providing much nutrition for my dollar. For awhile, I tried eating only really inexpensive "food" but found it didn't work - I felt hungry and unwell, not a good combination for parenting. Once I figured out how to adjust my budget to ensure I was getting decent nutrition, I found that nutritional eating didn't have to break the bank. I just learned to think about food differently. It's a lot of work through summer and into fall to stock up for winter, but it makes winter nutrition really simple. Now I view eating as sort of a science lab exercise, making sure I'm taking in enough protein, vitamins, calcium, etc., each day. And it's a fun exercise! I will point out, however ,that this has been a process. It's taken years to get to this nutritional place, and there were many periods of deep cravings. I believe, however, that we can train our brains to accept shifts in eating habits. Like so many other things in life, it just takes time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Pleasures of Pumpkin

Mmmm. Simple, nutritious, chock-full of healthy stuff.

During the summer, I purchased food from local producers. In addition to enjoying fresh, local produce, I also dried/dehydrated enough (mostly at temps low enough to keep nutrients intact) so I could have nutritional local food throughout the winter. I also came across a family selling pumpkins for $2 each. Having read about pumpkin's super-food qualifications, I picked up 10.  I dehydrated bits of pumpkins (and pumpkin seeds!) for hours on end, grinding some down into a powder. Then I learned that pumpkins, like tomatoes, actually have some sort of additional nutritional benefit when cooked so I baked the rest and filled the freezer with orange goodness.

Every few days, I usually do up a batch of quinoa (and was surprised to find that the PC Organics quinoa was less expensive to buy than quinoa in the Superstore bulk section) and store that in the fridge. Then every couple of days I put together various ingredients to mix with my almost-daily serving of quinoa. This provides me with a healthy meal that's always in my fridge. The quinoa rings in at less than $2.50 a box and provides me with numerous meals/snacks over the course of about 3 days (I'm more of a grazer, not so much a sit-down-and-eat-a-big-meal sort of person). I always add in pumpkin for the nutritional benefits. Each pumpkin was $2, half a pumpkin would be $1, which means my daily pumpkin costs less than 25cents. From thereon in, it's just a matter of choosing what else I want to toss in. If I add in beans (lima, garbanzo, black beans, etc.) they're the ones purchased in bulk or in a bag and soaked overnight before cooking (I sometimes grind them down as well into a houmous/hummus sort of blend before adding them to other ingredients for the quinoa OR just have them on their own, blended down with raw garlic and whatever else I feel like adding) - again, a nutritional boost for pennies per serving. I usually add in turmeric and then whatever vegetables I choose from the jars of dehydrated goodness in my cupboard.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw how many seeds small pumpkins could hold. They're packed! And what a great, low-cost food item! They pack a nutritional punch. I dehydrated mine, mostly without salt but some of the last batches were sprinkled with sea salt. You can imagine all the seeds we have from the 10 pumpkins we bought. I'm so thankful we came across the pumpkin folks. 

Monday, November 25, 2013


I choose.

I choose to see beauty. I believe part of that is intrinsic and part of that is conscious choice.

Consistently, frequently making that choice has provided the opportunity for my brain to learn to seek out. The more I've chosen to mindfully seek out beauty, the more my mind has been drawn to it, and seeks it out during times of difficulty. In my way of thinking, training our brain is actually done by everyone. Some train their brain by teaching it to react to whatever's happening, some by teaching it to turn to various means of coping whether healthy or unhealthy. I choose to train my brain towards beauty, nature, creativity.

I choose love.

I believe love is an active verb. If I feel affection towards someone but use terrible communication/behaviour towards them and then tell them that I am sorry and that I love them, I view the latter as an inaccurate statement. To me, it's akin to someone saying that they feed animals and then doesn't feed them but still says they feed animals, or someone who isn't a cyclist saying they bike everywhere. In my view, love is something we do or do not do.

I also believe that sometimes differences in the definition of love create a disconnect. I've seen this come into play in the scenario where one person is showing love and desire for peace by setting boundaries with another person regarding behaviour, whereas others are viewing those boundaries as being an indication of not accepting the other person and therefore not loving them. My view is that when someone has repeatedly shown damaging/disrespectful/inappropriate behaviour, setting boundaries with that person facilities love because it removes the potential for further damage and facilitates peace for all concerned.

I choose sadness.

Some seem to think that feeling "negative" feelings is a terrible thing; that "sad" needs to be "cheered up" and that anger is a scary thing. I believe it's what we do with those feelings that categorizes into what some believe as necessarily "good" and "bad" feelings. If we direct our anger at others in inappropriate/disrespectful ways, we've created problems for ourselves and those around us. If we wallow in sadness and wade into dwelling on the past, we again create problems. If we learn to make appropriate/healthy choices with our feelings (see below), we are capable of embracing our feelings as part of our life experiences. I have felt both sadness and anger. Embracing them has fostered creativity, for example, in the form of writing and painting, and has also ignited awareness and drive for advocacy.

I choose  happiness inner peace.

We all have events in life with which we have varying emotional responses. We feel. We all know it's not healthy to bottle up or ignore feelings. We all know it's not healthy to use feelings as a means to inappropriate behaviours. We also know that we can make choices. Except for those dealing with various medical conditions, we can choose how our feelings effect our lives. We can choose to put on our jacket and go for a walk even if we don't feel like doing so. We can choose to be active, be creative, be mindful - BE! We can choose to carve out all sorts of good stuff in our life whether we're feeling sad, happy, angry, etc. Where is our energy? I find mine in my mindfulness and in what I choose to do. Even during difficult times, we can choose to take steps towards healing. Focussing on a tree outside the window or the clouds in the sky is an active step towards healing through those difficulties. Training the mind to continually clear out other thoughts and focus on what the eyes are seeing can be a new exercise for some, but well worth the effort and a step towards  teaching oneself to tap into good. Training our brain to focus on what we want it to focus on can lead to all sorts of healthy paths in daily living, relationships, our way in the world.

What about happiness?

It seems to me that society teaches us to define happiness in relation to how we are affected by external circumstances. We are happy when someone gives us something or when something happens to us. Something "makes us" happy. I've given this much thought over the years. I feel happy in my core even though there are many circumstances in my life that would be considered "negative". I'm almost always feeling happy inside. I find it easy to smile. I feel very much at peace with myself. Then I began to wonder - is that what happiness is? Is it inner peace? In my experience, happiness and inner peace are different. I have a deep sense of peace about who I am and what I'm doing in this world. But there are times when there is turmoil happening around me. There are time when I cry. So is it possible to have a deep sense of peace about oneself yet have moments of not feeling happy? Yes. Is it possible to easily tap into a sense of happiness even when there's nothing different happening that would "cause" the happiness? Yes.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013


The next 24-48 hours may be the last for the father of one of my daughter's friends.
I dedicate this post to her.

There's an inner shift that happens when you know that someone close to you, someone
you care for, is dying.

It changes the way you think and feel. And there's a completely different depth to the time
you spend with your loved one.

When Grandpa died, I was already feeling anger because I couldn't afford to visit him in hospital as he was dying and I had nowhere for my son to stay even if I could afford the flight. He was the only grandpa I'd known and I'd had him only through my adult years. When he went into hospital, I was still adjusting to living a low-income lifestyle and dealing with my former husband's seeming hatred. Thankfully, my family made many reassuring phone calls during that time and that sense of unity and support helped heal my anger.  I knew that Parkinson's had been a deep thorn in his flesh. I knew Grandpa had lived a full life and that, throughout the end of that life, he was surrounded by loved ones.

Throughout my teen and adult years, I'd known my mother wasn't well. Heart problems and diabetes were having strong influences on her body. And yet, receiving that phone call that she had died just felt so sudden. I was literally speechless on the phone. I felt crushed. I felt as though the world had stopped and that anything happening outside of the news of my mom's death was happening in slow motion. I was heavily saddened by the news that Mom had been home by herself and had phoned for paramedics by herself and had potentially been alone when she died. And even though I learned the next day that she hadn't, in fact, died alone and that the paramedics had been with her when she died, I still felt heavily saddened that I hadn't been there with her to hold her hand, to caress her face, to kiss her forehead.

When my Nan died, I was with her. I was at the hospital as she was brought in. I was there
while they ran tests. I stayed through those dreadfully long couple of days and nights hoping she'd recover from heart surgery. And then they came and told me she was dying. I sat with her. I softly sang to her. I told her how much I appreciated her in my life and how inspiring she had been in so many ways. I recited Psalms to her that she had taught me as a child. I held her hand, surprised by how the swelling had filled in her hand, puffing it a bit to the point where it now resembled the hand that had held my childhood hand. I was distressed by seeing her tongue resting on her bottom lip under a tube rather than being inside her mouth where it could stay moist and presumably more comfortable. And even though the nurse explained to me that Nan could feel no pain, I was distressed by the single tear that escaped Nan's left eye. What did it mean? Was the nurse mistaken? Was Nan in pain? Or was it, as the nurse had said, simply fluid escaping without any other meaning since Nan was no longer cognizant of anything? Was Nan sad?

Nan's unexpected death was a blow, followed by my son's difficulties in coping with what was going on. He'd had to stay with a respite provider while I was at the hospital with Nan, then he had to learn that Nan had died, then he had to deal with knowing that his family was sad, and that his sister and I would be taking Nan's ashes to another province for her funeral there. He had a lot to deal with and used all sorts of ways to try to figure out how to deal with everything. The day of Nan's service at the local funeral home, we ended up having emergency vehicles at our house shortly after the service, after a nail was stuck into an electrical outlet. It was a difficult time for everyone.

When my Gran was dying, I'd had phone calls while she was in hospital to let me know what was happening. Gran had talked for years about wanting to be with Grandpa. She and I had had many in-depth conversations about our relationship, about life, about thoughts and ideas. I know she wanted
to go. Here's the song I wrote for my Gran:

Before Mom died, I thought I was prepared for her eventual death. I'd known for years that she wasn't well. I sense that maybe that lulled me into some level of non-awareness of my feelings about it. When it happened, I wasn't prepared. I was madly in love with her when I was very young, my preschool legs never carrying me fast enough to run to her when visiting her at work or when she'd come home at the end of the day. Over the years, she'd often caused me to re-examine myself and how I learn from and respond to people and situations. She'd been my cheerleader, my confidante. Did she know that I was aware of and appreciated the gifts she'd given me?

My daughter's friend has had time to journey through this process together with her father. She's a wonderful young woman with a loving family who will have all come together to support each other and will be there for each other during this time. She also has a fantastic group of friends who will circle around her and her family. Many things will have been different for my daughter's friend over the last while since her father's diagnosis. The process of death changes everyone involved. Death changes the living. There will have been those moments when everything seems surreal, and there will have been those moments of intense pain, and all those moments all over the spectrum. She's a strong woman. In time she'll remember that there's also been beauty throughout this process, and she'll continue to gain wisdom as she journeys through this time in her life. May she and her family be beautifully comforted.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


Today I came across this draft that I hadn't posted last year. I remember that I'd considered deleting it last year. Today I realized how pertinent it is to my present journey:

"Last week, I was sitting in a closet-sized room at a hospital lab where the only view included the three bathroom-stall walls around me and the empty wall on the other side of the corridor. Against the wall was a metal shelf unit on wheels, housing folded hospital gowns.

As I sat in the tiny space waiting for the lab assistant, I became aware of the sense that there was nothing inspiring that I could see, and I hadn't brought along a notepad for writing/ sketching/scribbling ideas. There was no window offering a glimpse of a tree or birds or sky. There was no music, no artwork on the walls - only my imagination.

So I challenged myself. I looked at that institutional metal rack and considered the possibility of thinking creatively about it. It was shiny. It was silver. Still nothing. It had wheels - that gave my mind a microsecond of a grin imagining the adventure Lucy Ricardo or some other character might have with a wheeled shelf unit in a hospital hallway.

And then my thinking took a sharp turn. I considered the idea that we often don't see because we don't "see" - we don't look, we don't understand, our interpretation is too shallow, too limited. Something inside me wanted to find what I wasn't seeing.

I considered that maybe that's what happens when we're in a desperate environment - we're reminded of the inner life within us rather than being so attached to the environment around us. We're beckoned to reclaim how we view life rather than having our view dictated by our surroundings. We're called to take the time to really see rather than just exist. And then I saw it. I caught my breath and smiled at the timing of the thoughts I was having and what I was seeing - the glint of light on the corner of one of the shelves. Reflection."

Light. It's what draws us to the magic of the stars in the night sky; the glow of the moon in the dark. Our ability to see colour is dependent on it. And it's within us.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coconut Oil and Aloe Vera

Coconut Oil

I've been using coconut oil regularly for about a year now and am still impressed by its versatility.


Coconut oil is great for hair, though I'm not great at being consistent with getting that "just right" amount without having to wash it out. I primarily use vinegar, water, and baking soda to clean my hair, but when I use coconut oil I generally have to also use a shampoo to remove the coconut oil afterwards so instead I occasionally just rub a tiny bit in my hands and run it over the top of my hair and through the ends.


Coconut oil feels so good on skin. When I first started using it, I overdid the amount and thought coconut oil was greasy because of it. Eventually I learned that it doesn't take much coconut oil and it doesn't take much time for skin to drink in all that goodness. Who knew that such a tiny amount could go so far! If you're interested in reading more about the relationship between coconut oil and free radicals, triglycerides, liver spots, etc., there's some good reading at  http://www.coconut-connections.com/skin_care.htm.

The Inside Scoop

I'm not an expert on nutritional science but there's all sorts of information online that explains the health benefits of ingesting coconut oil.  I've been taking a spoonful of it in its uncooked form as part of my daily routine, though it's great for cooking as well.

Aloe Vera

I remember when folks were buying aloe vera plants back in the 1970s so they could slice off a bit of a leaf to soothe burns.

Recently I've been learning that the clear gel inside the leaves are also beneficial when taken internally. After a bit more reading, I decided there seem to be numerous benefits and no harm in using it in small amounts. It's simple enough to do. Slice off part of one of the leaves (I think I read somewhere that it's best to use the more mature leaves that show a bit of a curve at the top so that's what I use), and gently slice open the leaf. The gel in the middle of the leaf is what you'll be gently scraping out. The aloin sap between the gel and the leaf is quite bitter. I usually eat about a teaspoon of the gel, though I've read online that some folks take it in much higher quantities. Once I've extracted and eaten the gel, I use the inside of the leaf to smear the sap on my skin.

I was surprised to discover how challenging it was to find an aloe vera plant to buy, but I've read that it's fairly easy to start up new plants once you have one. That will be one of this winter's activities.


Sunday, October 20, 2013


When I opened my eyes this morning, I became aware of seeing the moon shining brightly in the dark sky outside my window. The clarity drew me in like a moth and I felt deeply moved to be experiencing such a meaningful moment.

I feel privileged to live in a place where I'm able to connect with nature when my eyes first open in the morning. Pelicans, geese, seagulls, and the vastness of the sky and clouds have all been part of my morning viewings/focus. The tree branches within an arm's length of my window have provided much visual pleasure through the seasons as they interact with light and wind, and the variety of birds and songs have been heartwarming.

I'm thankful for today's wind. The wind chimes outside have been quiet lately and I've been missing their soul-feeding sounds. I'll plan to go down to the lake later today to see the wind on the water and to feel the wind while walking along. My mom used to tell me that when I was a baby, I'd giggle when the wind would blow in my face. I'm not fond of winter wind that dips into the minus 20s, but there's just something about wind otherwise that feels good somewhere deep in my soul.

We've had an extended autumn this year, for which I'm truly grateful. And today is another colourful, alive, autumn day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I'm not a pro-Facebook person.

I'd rather be painting, playing an instrument, writing, cooking, visiting with friends, talking with folks, felting, eating, singing, taking photos, colouring, etc.,etc., etc.

That said -

Being a single mom without a vehicle in the middle of Winter, however, leaves me semi-isolated.
I'm not able to go out with friends unless my son can come along or unless he's in respite. I don't have an issue with that because I do enjoy the life my son and I have carved out, but it really does decrease my time away from the house and my  time with friends, as well as my conversation skills with other adults. Being on facebook allows me to connect with folks I know. It also allows me to share joys, discoveries, my own journey and hear the journeys of other families who live with children who have various mental health/disability challenges. And I'm able to do all of that while I'm working on my computer otherwise.

Ever since I was a child, I've always sensed that we're here to contribute - that we're not just here to have fun and goof around, but to be a part of something that contributes to the increased well-being of others and the betterment of society and the global community as a whole. Being on facebook allows me to learn, share, show care, inform, advocate, be part of the larger community. It also facilitates the coming-together or folks who live with issues that would benefit from advocacy and allows me to be part of that even though I'm at home.

So, from someone who used to stay clear of Facebook and still does at times, there can be healthy benefits.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Today I've been thinking about books.

Actually, there are many days when I think about books.

As I continue to work towards minimizing belongings, one of the most difficult/growth-inducing challenges has been to find new homes for my books. Initially, I believed this difficulty was due to the fact that so many have turned away from books to embrace all the technological possibilities that are available today for readers across all genres. I started to see myself as one of the old guard. A bastion to protect books from the destructiveness of modern-day, throw-away, disposable-minded society! A caped crusader, providing sheltered residence for written works that might otherwise be forgotten in today's under-appreciative society! Cue the fanfare!

There are so many layers to my "keep the books safe" journey:
-Some books have been collected over the years with thoughts of passing them down to my children. Others were lovingly gifted to me by friends. Some books were passed on to me because I had a home for them. Yet others were purchased by me as my son and I journeyed through his assessments/diagnoses. My books are precious to me.
-I have a strong appreciation for books, particularly older storybooks. What about all those books that won't find make their way onto an electronic booklist? Are they now forever doomed to just fade into non-existence? Each writer has shared a completely unique part of themselves. If we give pause to think about that, why wouldn't we all want to protect older storybooks?
-Books provide a unique sensory experience. When I go into a bookstore, the first thing I enjoy is the smell. The logical part of my brain wants to think about mustiness and dust being breathed into my body - the appreciative bits all smile and breathe it in joyfully. And then there's the act of hooking my finger at the spine of the book to nudge the top of the book from a row of other books, and/or placing my hand into that stereotypical hand position of thumb on one side and fingers on the other in order to slide (sliiiide) a book out from beside/underneath another book or to pick up a book from another flat surface, or the flat-fingered-on-top manoeuver to slide a book closer to me. I encourage you to put your day on pause to take some time to slowly go through each of those steps - slowly - allowing yourself the luxury of living in and truly feeling those moments. Pause. Sigh happily. Now let's move on to opening the cover and feeling the coolness and/or texture of that first page - and how our brains are trained to turn pages in only a few different ways. There's so much to explore in all these seemingly simple acts.

I had to figure out how to re-home my books with the awareness that I'd never find the perfect home for each of them. It took time. It took growth. It took the idea that some of us view our books almost like our children - and the realization that they too need to be released out into the world to fulfill their purpose.

So now I'm thinking of sending the remainder of children's books to some place that will distribute them to children in other countries who don't have easy access to books. Why didn't I think of this before? My daughters are satiated with books for their children, my local library stated last summer that they're not accepting donations, I've already sent some to local places, offered to friends. Now it's just a matter of figuring out where to donate them...


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Easy and Divine!

I have a new favourite drinking milk - homemade coconut milk! It's so very delicious and inexpensive and has tons of nutritional benefits. My first experiment was done by filling a medium saucepan about 3/4 full of water (sorry for the "of water" omission in today's first post, thanks S!), adding three handfuls (handsful?) of shredded coconut and heating them (I boiled the first time but was concerned about loss of nutrients) together for about 5 minutes. Once the mixture was cooled enough, I poured it into a blender and ran the blender for about a minute then strained the mixture through a fine sieve (and pressing the fleshy bits) before pouring into a container to be refrigerated. I also drank about half a cup of it before putting it into the fridge. It was wonderful and creamy and absolutely delicious. The next morning I was delighted to find the cold version was not only equally delicious but very refreshing. I immediately made another batch, this time adding it to the blender while it was still as warm as I thought my blender could tolerate, then added cinnamon - definitely a new favourite in the warm beverage category! My next experiment was to just soak shredded coconut in an equal amount of hot water for 5 minutes then pour it through the sieve and press the flesh. This provided a very nice milk as well, though I still preferred the creaminess result of boiling/blending over this one.

One of the benefits I appreciate most from our homemade nut milks (almond, walnut, and now coconut!) in addition to that wonderfully therapeutic feel of working with food, is always being able to make some as long as I have nuts in the cupboard. I've never done a price comparison of homemade nut milk vs dairy milk for a family of 4, but the homemade nut milk is definitely less costly than commercially-prepared nut milks and has that additional benefit of the lovely feeling that comes from peparing it myself.

The nut milks we make generally follow the same recipe - soak the nuts overnight, rinse well, put nuts into blender and add more or less twice as much water to nuts, blend for a few minutes, strain, store in refrigerator. Some folks would add vanilla and/or sweetener. The remaining nut "mash" or pulp can be re-used for another batch of (thinner) milk, used with other foods or just eaten on its own - lovely with honey.

There are benefits to soaking the (plain, unsalted) nuts beforehand, though you can also just use them without soaking. (***for those interested in nutritional information, read up on the importance of soaking nuts and the connection to phytic acid)

The water/nut ratio depends on your taste as well as how you'll be using the nut milk. I prefer a thicker milk for gravies/sauces/puddings, and somewhat thinner for drinking.

Well, I must be off - there's a bottle of coconut milk that's been cooling since last night....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Natural Cleaning for Body and Home

I've recently had requests for information about "simple" cleaning products. It feels so good to be free from purchasing commercial cleaners and having them in our home. It feels great to know my cleaning products aren't doing more harm to the environment, and that they're not having a negative effect on my health nor the health of my family. And - the cost is pennies compared to commercial products. It just feels good!

There's a myriad of information online about natural cleaning for home and body so I won't go into detail other than sharing my own experience.

I believe "cleaning" our body is more about "feeding" our body's exterior. My aim is to promote health and well-being for my skin, which contributes to my overall health and well-being, and to do so within a tight budget. It doesn't take much at all, cost-wise, so it's a really lovely way to care for yourself.

The biggest lesson I've learned when it comes to my hair/scalp was to drop the "must wash daily" habit. It's terrible for the scalp, which is so much happier with its own oils. It took awhile for my hair to get used to the idea of being washed only once or twice a week, but once it got into a natural frame of mind, it was healthier and easier to manage. It's now at a point where it generally only needs a basic washing about once every 7-10 days.
For basic hair cleaning, I use baking soda, vinegar, and water, though mostly I just use vinegar and water. Sometimes I add baking soda to water and shake the mixture and massage it well all over my scalp then rinse with a vinegar/water blend. Other times I make a paste with some baking soda in my hand and a bit of water then massage that in and keep making more paste as needed. Usually I prefer to sprinkle baking soda onto my scalp, wet or dry, massage it well and then (because I just enjoy the fun of it!) squirt vinegar over my scalp (it's good to let the vinegar container sit in the warm water first unless you enjoy having cold liquid running/dripping down your back) and work my fingers through that lovely foaming action! I follow this with a thorough water rinse and sometimes do an additional vinegar/water rinse. Once or twice a month I use olive oil (only need a couple of tablespoons) and/or natural honey yoghurt for deep conditioning. I rinse thoroughly with water then usually do a brief wash with a bar of organic soap I keep for just this purpose followed by a vinegar/water rinse. Once in a blue moon I use a "clean" (organic, no animal testing, etc.) commercial shampoo after deep conditioning.

For me, a basic bath is 1/2 - 1 cup vinegar poured into the bath water. Other than that, the sky's the limit. Olive oil (1 tablespoon is usually plenty, definitely no more than two), epsom salts, baking soda, orange peels, herbal teabag (lovely to squeeze over the skin), oatmeal in a bit of fabric tied with string (again, wonderful to squeeze/drip over skin) - any or all of the aforementioned (feel free to add fruit, milk (nut,goat,dairy,whatever floats your boat), natural juice, or any other natural tidbits you desire!) make for a healthy, natural experience for your body and soul. If I use a washcloth, I use a piece of felted wool (I'll soon have some for sale in my shop). If I don't use olive oil in my bath because I know I won't have time to clean it from the sides of the tub after bathing (empty/rinse tub, sprinkle baking soda either onto sides of tub or onto sponge and wipe, rinse), I'll put a couple drops at a time into my palm and massage that over my skin, occasionally adding a few drops of vanilla extract as well.

I usually just use water in the morning. Before bed, I usually use a piece of felted wool (lovely benefits to using wool!) with vinegar to wipe off the bits of the day then sometimes rinse with water then smear a few drops of olive oil directly onto my skin as needed. Once in awhile I'll do a natural yoghurt mask which takes about 1-2 tablespoons of yoghurt to do my face and neck and hands - just smear it on as you would use a commercial skin cream, let it dry (or don't) and rinse off. Another option I sometimes use is a bit of oatmeal in a piece of tied fabrice - wet the bundle and squeeze the oatmeal "juice" into your palm then rub onto your skin. There are all sorts of other natural facial/bodycare options. I find that what I'm presently using presently works for my skin and my budget.

As we continue to move towards being a commercially scent-free society, there are natural ways to enhance your natural scent or to provide a scent for yourself to enjoy throughout the day. I enjoy the scent of vanilla, so occasionally I'll rub a couple of drops onto my hands or onto my neck or scarf so I can breathe it in wherever I am. A bit of olive oil in the background might help the scent linger longer.

I wet my toothbrush then dip it straight into baking soda and brush then rinse with a water/vinegar combo. Flossing is important. Rinsing after flossing is important. Cleaning teeth before breakfast is important so any ick that may have accumulated throughout the night is not being swallowed. In summer, I usually keep a few fresh mint leaves with me to chew as needed throughout the day rather than commercial gum/breath freshener. Drinking mint water (water with fresh or dried mint leaves in a non-plastic/non-paper cup - I like popping some into my water bottle for mintry freshness throughout the day) is also beneficial for that fresh mouth feeling.
*Lately I've been reading about some interesting connections between honey and dental care, but I don't know enough about it to feel comfortable putting the information here. It's certainly interesting and research-worthy!

Household Cleaning
Baking Soda. Vinegar. Water.

Baking Soda: almost anywhere that needs scrubbing/polishing - stained cups, sinks/tub, toilet bowls, hard-water-stained faucets, refrigerator, etc. For small areas, I dip a fingertip of a wet rag into baking soda. Rinse, dry/polish if needed.

Vinegar: countertops, floors, sinks, tubs, toilets, windows, glass tables, etc. I try to keep a spray bottle with a water/vinegar mix for most uses and a small separate spray bottle with just vinegar for glass/faucets/mirrors. Just a little spray will do! I also put vinegar into the toilet bowl when it needs freshening.

Stovetop/Oven: Scrub with baking soda as needed. For tougher spots - when I've boiled the kettle for tea/cocao, I pour a bit of the boiling water onto what needs to be cleaned on the stovetop, place a dishcloth over it and let it soak then use baking soda and an old toothbrush.

Air/Fabric Freshener: Water/vinegar mixed and kept in a spray bottle - spray as needed. Also great for spraying directly into the toilet as needed after flushing.

Laundry: We use about half a cup of baking soda instead of laundry detergent. Sometimes we add a bit of vinegar as well. I am still working on finding what works best for static cling when using the dryer. For awhile, I tried those plastic (ugh, plastic!) balls that are meant to replace dryer sheets but they dimpled all my clothes every time. I've read that making felted wool dryer balls are the answer but I haven't tried them yet. **UPDATE: The last few weeks, I've been using just straight vinegar for washing my clothes - it's likely around a cupful that I pour in. Static cling is minimal at the most.

Well, that's all that's coming to mind off-hand. I'll add more if more comes to mind, but I'd love to hear your natural body/household solutions!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Upcycled Baby Skirts

Fairy/Pixie Skirt:
Wispy, angled points and soft elastic waist. Upcycled from a curtain.
I found an airy white curtain at the thrift shop, trimmed the edges into pixy wisps, slipped a soft elastic into the curtain rod sleeve, and stitched up the back. Very simple with only very basic cutting and sewing skills required.

Ballerina Fairy Skirt:
Layers of netting tied onto a soft elastic waist.
Upcycled from mosquito netting.
I found mosquito netting at our local thrift shop. I cut it into numerous strips of the same length then later decided to trim some of the lengths to add more dimension and bounce for a little ballerina, though having them all the same length was just as lovely. I hand-stitched the two ends of soft elastic together then simply tied the netting strips onto the elastic by creating a netting strip loop then pulling the ends through the loop so the netting hung on the elastic. I was surprised by how the elastic ended up being stretched by the process, and I ended up trimming and re-stitching the elastic. Due to the time it took to cut the strips, this skirt was much more labour-intensive than the one above.
Next to no sewing skills required.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


I'm grateful to be living in a country with such a culturally-rich national radio station. CBC radio has, as on so many other occasions, been providing the background to our Christmas Eve day. And on this day, what could be better amidst playing with my grand-daughter, making fudge, and cutting out paper snowflakes than the likes of Handel's Messiah, Stuart McLean and the Vinylettes, and the perfect blend of traditional and not-so-traditional songs of the season? Thank-you, CBC, for being part of the tapestry of our lives.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Making Holiday Memories

Simple living brings with it many gifts, the greatest being a natural continuum of appreciation.

As we distance ourselves from consumeristic trappings, the more our mind and soul are free to breathe, to see good, to create, to participate in our existence.

Each year I grow further away from the consumerism that polluted my life when my children were small. Each year I am aware of a greater degree of inner peace.

How are we celebrating the holidays? My son and I are purposefully doing one special thing each day in addition to our usual family time:

Paper snowflakes, nature photography walk, making fudge, picking up a "new" board game at the thrift shop then settling in for an afternoon of playing and popcorn, playing music at local residential homes/shelter/seniors' homes, repainting canvases, an afternoon of sketching memories from family life, a "kitchen experiments" day, learning to knit, a minimizing day of clearing out items that could be better used elsewhere, felting, a "downtown" photography day, making a cookie train, and a movie evening which was a gift from a friend. We did the movie evening last night and saw "Hugo" - an interesting film highlighting the works of Georges Méliès. ***My son has reminded me that we'd also decided that we'll be making a special treat in the kitchen every day!

We're aiming to go for a walk every day. We usually put any food cuttings/scraps into our  small compost bag on our deck but during the winter we put some out in our yard every day for the squirrel and birds. We've been watching the History of Canada on vhs tapes we found at the thrift shop - they have so much information that we're looking forward to watching bits of them frequently throughout the holidays. My grand-daughters will be stopping by to spend part of a day here and there, when I'm sure much teadollspuzzlesstories-
windowwatchingwaterplayingsnacking will take place. We're going to play Christmas lp's, now that I finally found an affordale record player ($15 at our thrift shop!), including one that's the same as one I had when I was a child. On Christmas morning, we're looking forward to enjoying a breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and mandarins before my son opens his stocking. At some point we'll walk over to one of the local residential homes for adults living with disabilities and we'll share some music. We haven't decided yet whether to have our Christmas dinner around noon or later in the day. We're also considering picking up some ice skates at the thrift shop and trying to stay upright on the local outdoor rink across the road from our house.

No malls, no shopping stresses. We're giving a few small gifts - some purchased at a couple of local shops within walking distance from our home, a few purchased online, and a few homemade.

A simple, peaceful Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Treats

Gluten-free, Casein-free

I was reminded this morning that there are folks looking for quick and easy gfcf holiday recipes. At our house, quick and easy is a favourite when it comes to treats. I've done quite a bit of experimenting with food to find what works for my son's needs as well as our finances. Here are some of our favourite sweets....

Melt bakers chocolate with a bit of natural honey to taste (I usually do 2 squares of chocolate and a dollop of honey that just covers the tip of a regular wooden spoon then add as needed. Don't overdo the honey though or you'll just end up with chocolate-honey soup. Add enough honey to "just" sweeten the chocolate)

 Drop by spoonful onto waxed or parchment paper and enjoy! These can be eaten as is OR wait til they're cool enough to roll into balls then dip them in chocolate and roll in hemp seed, coconut, crushed gfcf cereal, crushed nuts, cinnamon, or whatever else your heart desires.

Chocolate Cereal Drops
Melt whatever you usually use for melting chocolate. Because we're very careful with our shekels and have become used to eating few sweets, we can afford to purchase a nice bar of fair trade, high cocao, cane sugar chocolate for these. For the cereal, we use gfcf puffed millet or gfcf puffed rice (both of which we've been able to find on sale for 99cents a bag so stocked up). Gently stir cereal into melted chocolate and drop by spoonful. Try not to eat them all before they've set.

Potato Candy

Potato candy is very simple to make - and if you've never made it before, it's also an interesting process to observe. This has been a tradition in our family for generations.

Ingredients: Mashed potato, icing sugar, optional peanut butter, optional peppermint extract

Although the bulk of the food preparation in our home is gfcf, I do not purchase gfcf store products. I view them as being in the same category as any other boxed/ prepared/processed food. We have, however, occasionally received gfcf icing sugar from our food bank. I've also recently learned that icing sugar is just sugar and cornstarch blended together, so will be experimenting in the new year with cane sugar and gfcf cornstarch. All in all, we generally don't use sugar or icing sugar. Potato candy, however, requires the latter.

I use about 2 heaping tablespoons of mashed potato, then slowly continue sprinkling in icing sugar til I have a firm dough. This sounds simple enough, and it is, but if you're new to the world of potato candy, you'll likely be surprised or possibly even concerned when you first start adding the icing sugar and realize you have what looks to be a liquid mess in your bowl. What's happening is that the sugar is breaking down the starch in the potato. Bravely carry on.

Once the dough is ready, sprinkle some icing sugar onto waxed or parchment paper and place the dough onto the paper. Knead, adding more icing sugar as necessary. Once you think the dough is firm enough, roll it out into a rectangle, spread with peanut butter (or other nut butter), roll it up as you would for a jellyroll. Some folks then wrap the roll in waxed or parchment paper and refrigerate then slice. I just let mine sit for a bit on the table before cutting it into deliciously lovely little slices.

**Alternative 1: I usually put a couple of drops of peppermint extract into the palm of my hand then gently rub my hands together then knead the dough. If I forget, then I just gently rub my peppermint hands over the finished roll before slicing. The roll is good without the peppermint as well.

**Alternative 2: Instead of rolling dough out into a rectangle, just form small balls. These can be eaten as is or dipped in chocolate.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Felting and Fulling/Waulking

Silk, Bamboo, and Merino fibres felted with Manitoba Shetland and fulled

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Lake Winnipeg"
My first attempt at wet-felting a picture.
I'll be spending more time rolling this piece this afternoon.

It's been an interesting journey to wool. I'd been talking with a friend about how much I disliked using toxic products for paintings, particularly the varnish that provides the wonderful finish that I and my clients appreciate. I started investigating other options at our local paint shop. There are some eco-paints out there, some that may or may not contain arsenic and/or other not-so-desireables, but the price point is such that I'd have to change and severely limit my present process. Additionally, I couldn't find a responsibly-supportive varnish alternative. What started out as a wonderfully pleasant, soul-feeding experience of abstract expressionism was now becoming a cerebrally-bathed exercise. While all this way going on, I was continuing my weekly wanderings through our local thrift shop and realizing there were certain items that seemed to have a semi-permanent life on the shelves - doilies, bags of raw wool for quilts, pillowcases, etc. Every time I wandered by these items, my brain went into upcycling mode until one day I bought a bag of wool and went home to research. I was surprised to learn that wool has all those lovely benefits mentioned in a previos post, and was thrilled to think that I could become skilled at making pieces with such a natural and easily-sourced material. I've been looking into where I can find locally-produced roving, asking experienced felters about the likelihood of being able to use the thrift shop wool (my previous post tells the story of difficulties I've had with felting it), and building skills through researching online and trying my hand at felting something small every day. I'm hoping to be able to find a local alpaca farm that cleans and cards from its own alpacas. In the meantime, I'm also experimenting with basic felting/fulling of premade wool items. It feels so enriching to be working with wool.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Felting Soap, Roasting Chestnuts, Making Tutus

A few weeks ago during one of my frequent trips to our local thrift shop, I realized that there are often bags of batted wool (for using inside homemade blankets/quilts) sitting up on one of the shelves. Knowing that wool has all sorts of lovely benefits (anti-fungal, mildew-resistant, naturally warm, highly flame resistant http://www.duofiberworks.com/journal/2010/12/30/super-non-scientific-fire-testing-felted-wool.html, etc.), I bought one of the bags, brought it home, and starting researching wool projects online. I soon stumbled across a myriad of information about felting and fulling wool, and decided that felting soap would be a good introductory lesson.  I won't include the "how to" on this blog, since there is already so much information available online and mine would just be repetitive. My first two attempts at wet felting look like more or less like tiny, woolly sheep bodies without any evidence of the wool felting to/over the soap bar. I sought out some help from folks at a wool shop. Yes, I'd used a textured mat. Yes, I'd used hot water. After a few more minutes of discussion, I left with some of the shop's roving. My third attempt showed some evidence of felting but was horrendously bulky. The blue/pink bar below was my fourth attempt - still learning!

And, using less wool and using a nylon produce bag, I finally figured it out! The photos below show both sides of the successfully-felted bars of soap. As you can see, the bar in the middle is larger/bulkier than the others.
I tried again with the thrift shop wool but to no avail. Lesson learned - figure out some other creative use for the wool bats.

We came upon some chestnuts at a local store a couple of weeks ago and bought a few to try them out. Having never actually eaten them before (other than their cousins, canned water chestnuts), I read a couple of websites then soaked the nuts, sliced an "X" across their flat sides, and put them onto a pan and into the oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. I  was less than enthused at first, but popped them back into the oven for another 5 or 6 minutes and tried them again. The added time produced a nuttier/starchier, sweeter flavour.
They didn't stay in the basket very long.

With two little granddaughters, I decided fairy skirts would be a suitable gift for each one. When I went over to the fabric store to price them out, I realized I'd be spending close to $40. per skirt to get the fullness I wanted. Hmmm, back to the drawing board. When I went to the thrift shop later that day, I was happy to discover some mosquito netting for $8! As you can see, this one isn't quite finished yet (the netting has taken more cutting time than I'd anticipated), but is turning out quite nicely.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

December 6, 1989

In Memory....

~Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
~Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
~Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
~Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
~Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
~Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
~Maryse Laganière (born 1964), staff member of École Polytechnique
~Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
~Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
~Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
~Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
~Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
~Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Easy, Nutritious Summer Drinks

A couple of summers ago, my son and I decided to make homemade soda for his birthday party. We made six different flavours. My son thoroughly enjoyed them all. He knew this was a rarity because each required a simple syrup (requiring sugar - thankfully we have fair-trade, organic cane sugar available from Ten Thousand Villages) and club soda. I knew there had to be healthier, inexpensive alternatives.

Here are some of our experiments:

Ginger Juice

Boil sliced ginger in a pot of water (I use about 2-3 inches for about 8 cups)
Sweeten to taste (optional)
I find the warm version tastes different than the cooled version, and though I enjoy them both, I probably enjoy the chilled version more than I should. I've started making this much less than I used to because even the thought of it makes me want some, and I'm not even a ginger fan otherwise!

Citrus Blends

Our nearby grocery store has a "50% off" produce shelf. A couple of weeks ago, it was full of oranges, lemons, and limes. Did you know lemons have a myriad of health benefits? It's true! We've been peeling a combination of citrus, then cutting them into wedges, gently poking numerous holes into them, tossing them into a pot along with the peels, covering them in boiling water from the kettle, then putting the lid on the pot and leaving it to brew for a few minutes just like that. About 10 minutes or so later, I use a potato masher and gently mash the fruit a bit, then add more water and let the pot simmer. Strain. I added honey and cinnamon to my first batch. Divine! Unfortunately, we (mostly I!) drank all of it that afternoon. I did up subsequent batches without anything other than the fruit and water, and canned the blends into quart jars for later sweetening. I also kept a jar in the fridge, and I really didn't mind it without the honey once it was chilled.

I also did up a couple of jars of ginger/citrus - and will definitely be doing up more of those!


Many folks make smoothies these days. This is nothing new. We greatly enjoy the fact that you can toss almost any produce into the blender.

One of my favourite things about smoothies is that you can toss in raw beets, spinach, etc., and drink down a greater quantity of produce than you might eat otherwise in one sitting.

And for the cocoa-holics out there, you can toss in additional health benefits by tossing in some cocoa.

Here's one of our favourite smoothies:
Coconut milk or other milk, and water
Frozen fruit (mangoes, friends' organic berries, etc)
Spinach (I usually toss in 2 servings)
Sprinkle of cinnamon on top

For those of you scrunching up your nose at the thought of the taste of spinach in a smoothie, have no fear. The spinach is masked by the other flavours.

No coconut milk? No problem, if you have coconut or other nuts at home. Walnuts or almonds are a great alternative - before making your smoothie, just toss half a cup or so into the blender with 2 cups of water, blend blend blend, then strain out the leftovers (and eat with honey or on cereal, etc) or leave them in your smoothie when you add the other ingredients.

Of course, you can experiment with leaving out the "milk" part and just try out different fruit/vegetable/water/herbal tea blends to find some that you enjoy. There are no rules - at least, I haven't come across any yet!


When it comes to drinks, we all know we don't need soda or energy drinks or even commercial fruit juice. Our bodies need water. Our bodies need vegetables and fruits. We need to have some fun. When we toss a few things into our blender, we're in control of what we're drinking which means we're healthier. It also means we can probably slip in a few more vegetables than we or our children might be taking in otherwise.


One morning, my son called to me from the kitchen.
"Mom, do you want some iced tea?"
"You made iced tea? And it's cold already?"
"Yeah. I made it with cold water."

And he had. And it tasted - well, it tasted like cold tea. He'd put a couple of herbal cinnamon teabags into a pitcher and filled the pitcher with water then let it sit for awhile. Basically, it was flavoured water. But it was nicely flavoured and already cold without having to wait.  So I guess we really don't need to use power to heat up a kettle for to make iced tea (with the exception of sun-brewed tea) only to later put it into the fridge to cool, and we definitely don't need that syrupy, sugar-laden stuff of yore.

Soon it will be time to experiment with drinks that will satisfy and warm through the Autumn months. A friend of mine once served me a cup of warm beet juice with just a splash of vinegar. I'd never had beet juice before, but oddly enough it immediately brought back memories of walking to school through fragrant fallen leaves, and all felt right with the world.

Happy Experimenting!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Urban Garden Report

June 25, 2011

My urban garden thus far consists of:

- 3 squash plants in 2 long, narrow plastic containers; 1 in its own container, 2 sharing the other container
- 3 strawberry plants in an upside-down planter
- 1 tomato plant in an upside-down planter
- 4 tomato plants in the ground underneath our living room window
- 2 parsley plants in a container
- 1 chocolate mint plant in a long, narrow plastic container which suddenly is now also home to approximately 20 or so mystery seedlings
- 1 mint plant and 1 tomato plant from the nursery still waiting for a new home
- 11 tomato seedlings still waiting for their new homes
- 6 indoor tomato plants, one of which has a serious water addiction

The upside-down tomato plant looks as though it's practising for its gymnastics debut. Maybe it has sensory integration challenges - it definitely is not presently comfortable with the idea of being upside-down. It looks like someone who's hanging by their ankles and trying to touch their feet. And I could be wrong, but it doesn't look as though it's actually growing. It doesn't appear to be dying either, so I'm hoping it will relax at some point so its energy can go into growing tomatoes instead of going into surviving its directional crisis.

The strawberry plants do not seem very happy at all with their communal situation. I've been removing a few curled and/or brown leaves every couple of days. Again, I'm hopeful that a few more days for adjustment is all they'll need to become their happily productive selves.

Out of all the tomato seeds I seeded in melon rinds and containers, only 6 did not come up. I still have 11 happily (and quickly at this point!) growing in their original (small!) pots, some on their own and some with room-mates, and have yet to figure out where to put them all!

I'm trying a few tomato plants inside to see how they do. So far, all of them appear to be doing well. One plant, however, looked extremely sad as soon as I transplanted it into its own pot and moved it indoors.  Within about half an hour following transplant, it was very, very droopy. None of the others displayed such a dramatic response. Overall, that plant requires at least twice the amount of water as the others, and looks extremely sad every morning. It may need to be relocated back outside.

The container where I planted the chocolate mint suddenly sprouted a community of seedlings this past week. Many seedlings. Many, many, many seedlings. It's a mystery. So far, the best I 've been able to figure is that they might be canteloupe seedlings from some we had tossed into the compost. Anyone want canteloupe seedlings?? My sister tells me it's far too late for canteloupes anyway. If they're put in earlier in the season, they're only ready by mid-September. Here in Manitoba, anything past then is at risk for the bite of frost. Poor little things, I'd hate to just yank them out and let them die. My sister has a plan - just pull them and transplant them randomly in public spaces around town! That's not unlike my "secretly plant ferns around town so I can harvest fiddleheads next year" plan ;-)

The only plants that I've put into the ground are 4 tomato plants under my living room window. They aren't dying and they seem happy enough - but they aren't growing. They just seem frozen in time.

I'm hoping to find folks willing to let me pick their unwanted fruit this year. So many residential yards have fruit trees, particularly crabapples, that eventually drop their fruit which then just rots on the ground. I can think of a few other uses for those apples :-)

Urban Gardener, out

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Embracing Purpose

I've heard it in movies, from friends, from acquaintances, in casual conversation, and in all sorts of different places  -  there really are people in this world who don't feel they have a purpose in life. There really are people in this world who eat, sleep, work, and live their life with a sense of emptiness.

As a Mom raising a child who lives with disabilities, I never question whether or not I have a purpose in life. I never wonder whether or not I'm contributing to the world. I don't ever wonder if my life is worthwhile.

I make a difference in the world every single day just by being who I am. That difference can be positive or negative, depending on how I choose to be.

I make a difference in my child's world, and he makes a difference in my world. And knowing both those things makes a difference in my world as well.

I make a difference in the world around me every single day by loving my child and teaching him how to live well, and by allowing my experience with my child to mold me in positive ways.

I make a difference in the lives of others when I advocate for my child or when I help someone else better understand my child. And every bit of understanding also makes a difference in the lives of others living with disabilities.

I make a difference in my child's future by providing the supports he needs today, but that difference also effects others who will know my child in the future.

Sometimes an unpaid career is just as meaningful as or even moreso than a paid career.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Gardening, Volunteering, and Drinking

June 9, 2011

Small-Space Urban Gardening

My squash plants are up!

"How are you going to grow squash plants on a deck?" you might be thinking.

Well, the original plan was to start them from seed then transfer the seedlings into the community garden. But now I've decided I'm also going to experiment a bit. Two plants are going to be transplanted into two separate containers. The containers will be set on the floor of the deck and I'll be carefully training the vines to run along the deck floor. The containers will be fairly shallow, less than 6 inches in depth, but will be long and will only have one plant each. That will be Experiment #1.

The second experiment is to see how well dandelions grow in various containers. I'm going to dedicate two containers to the gentle green and see if we can have fresh produce all summer. Part B of Experiment #2 will be to see how long dandelions will grow inside once their main growing season is over.

What else...oh yes - the tomato plants I seeded into melon rinds. There are four seedlings that came up in one rind and zero in the other. While I'm obviously happy to see the four that have come up, the resulting data leaves much to be desired for scientific purposes ;-)   I also started two tomato plants by seed in separate corners of a rectangular container and put varying amounts of "pre-compost produce-waste" in an around the seeded sites. One plant came up. Unfortunately, in my carelessness one day, I accidentally pulled the teeny plant out when moving an orange rind.


There are so many financially-free ways to be involved in one's community. Here are some of the ways we've been community-minded over the years:
-Many local festivals offer some free activities in addition to those with a price tag
-Attend different levels of sports games, from peewee to adult, for free afternoons/evenings of entertainment and community-connection
-Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer! Oh, and then Volunteer some more! I've been on various committees in our community. I've volunteered as a crisis counsellor and with our local arts center and with our local teen drop-in center.  My son and I have volunteered with programs for newcomers to our city, with programs for adults who live with disabilities, at our local library, in our local parade, and with seniors. We're presently working on organizing an afternoon in the park for local families of children with disabilities. Once in awhile, we've done some secret volunteering as well - secretly dropping off a bag of groceries for someone in need, organizing a Mother's Day basket for women at the local shelter, etc. In addition to all the community-building benefits, it's also good for my son to be involved in giving to his community to develop his sense of becoming a positively-participating member of his community and all the personal good that goes along with that. A meaningful life really is possible for all.

In Our Kitchen: Healthy Alternatives to Soda and Juice

We don't buy bottled water. I boil the water from our tap and generally just drink from that throughout the day/evening. On a cool evening or rainy day, however, I enjoy brewing up a bunch of homemade drinks to stock our fridge. Here are some favourites:

-Bruise/break mint leaves and toss into bottom of drink container
-Add boiled, cooled water

Parsley or Basil
-Boil a pot of water
-Add parsley (dried or fresh) or basil (fresh)
-Remove from heat and let steep
-Strain and cool
-Pour into container and refrigerate

Ginger (my favourite thus far!)
-Boil a pot of water
-While waiting for water to boil, use a metal spoon to scrape the skin from a piece of fresh ginger (how much you use depends on how much water and personal taste - enjoy experimenting!)
-Slice your ginger and add to the boiling water, then simmer til desired taste
-Strain if desired
-Add honey to taste
-Cool, pour into container and refrigerate

Honey (use the good stuff so you get all the health benefits!)
-Boil water. Add honey. Cool. Pour into container and refrigerate.