Maybe Someday.

Hi friends.

No, I haven’t finished my series on the crunchy community, and honestly, I don’t know if/when it will ever get done.

I’m just writing in to say that I haven’t forgotten about the blog, but I don’t know if/when I will ever continue.

Life has been hard these last four years, and has just gotten harder in the last few months.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years it’s that when things are hard, buckle up, because they’re only going to get harder.

Maybe someday things will get easier. Maybe someday I’ll be able to follow my dreams and create art and beauty and new life.

But today I just have to get through the day. And that’s probably how it’s going to go for years to come.

(To be clear, nothing dramatic has happened or changed in my life. Just all of the same — no sleep, no answers — but a little bit worse.)

If you want to know what I’m up to, I’m sometimes active on Instagram.

Why are we so drawn to alternative medicine?

Photo credit

The other day I began my story of how I fell in love — and then out of love — with the crunchy community. I said I wanted to explore some of the dangers and pitfalls of the wellness industry.

But before I spend too much time discussing the negative sides of “crunchy living” and alternative medicine, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that alternative healing practices definitely have their strengths and benefits, and I totally understand their allure.

Many of us turned to alternative medicine when conventional medicine failed us.

Because the truth is, the conventional (Western) medicine model can be very disempowering for patients.

The doctor typically holds all the power: it’s their office; you go in on their time. They tell you what to do. They decide your prescription and the dose, and tell you when to come back.

They often use unfamiliar, infantilizing jargon that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and belittled. And they often shame you if you admit to googling your symptoms or trying out alternative healing practices. It can feel like they don’t want you to have any agency in your own wellness.

No matter how old, intelligent, or experienced you are, you often leave a doctor’s office feeling like a child. It’s a relationship where the doctor knows everything and you know nothing.

We often come out of a doctor’s office feeling like we weren’t heard or taken seriously. We often feel like there is nothing we can do to aid in our own healing. And we feel like our doctors don’t take into account our whole selves: we don’t feel like our spiritual and emotional selves are acknowledged.

And that’s if we can even get ourselves to step through the door. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are often cold, sterile, unwelcoming places. They tend to be crowded and busy, and we feel anonymous. Monitors beep, we stand in lines, everything smells antiseptic. Most of us will do just about anything to avoid going there in the first place.

Compare that to many holistic wellness centers, which are typically more welcoming and empowering. The floors are often carpeted and you’re encouraged to take off your shoes. There is often soothing music playing, and diffusers bubbling with calming essential oils. The lights may be dimmed and there is probably a potted succulent on the receptionist’s desk.

Your alternative healthcare provider often listens carefully as you discuss not only your source of pain, but your daily routine, your diet, your emotional responses to you suffering, and alternative remedies you’ve tried. They take you seriously when you say you’ve tried acupuncture or cutting out gluten. They typically use language you understand. They often offer a number of options and encourage you to find a dose that works for you. They might give you their email address in case you have additional questions for later.

You typically leave a wellness center feeling like a whole person who is actively participating in finding a solution.

And sometimes you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home. The Internet offers an infinite number of ideas, suggestions, and solutions. There are millions of people out there telling you that you can take control of your own health. You just have to read the right books, eat the right food, do the right exercises, or take the right supplements.

Who wouldn’t want to go that route over the medical route if possible?

Well, unfortunately, I’ve discovered firsthand that there are some problems inherent in the alternative health model as well.

For one thing, alternative healthcare is not as well regulated, so a lot of nonsense – often dangerous — can slip in. There is often not enough accountability for peddlers of alternative medicine.

And sometimes the burden of figuring things out for yourself can become overwhelming rather than empowering.

And when alternative healing doesn’t work, you can wind up feeling like you didn’t try hard enough, or that you’re just too lazy, or any number of self-defeating things.

And it’s these problems that I want to explore a bit more in future posts.

Thanks for following along!

The Problem with the Crunchy Community: An Intro (My Story)

My crunchy journey started around 2010, when I found myself unable to get pregnant after a year of trying. I found my family doctor completely and utterly useless in the matter, so I turned to the Internet.

There, I discovered a world where toxins are everywhere, trying to sabotage our health. The Standard American Diet is leaving us sick and disordered. The medical community is keeping secrets because it profits from our lack of health.

I bought into it completely. Vibrant health (including fertility) could be achieved with knowledge, hard work, and and the right foods and exercises.

And, I mean, why wouldn’t I buy right into it? After another year of trying — this time armed with traditional foods, supplements, and nontoxic cleaners and body products — I did finally get pregnant. I gave birth (at home, of course) to a robustly healthy little girl. I fed her all the right foods (including breast milk, of course) right from the start, ensuring a healthy future for her.

It was an incredible victory.

I did all the same hard work to get pregnant a second time, two years later. This time I gave birth to a beautiful, nine-pound boy with blond hair. A miracle. My dreams had all come true. Because I had done everything right.

Until I found out that my beautiful baby had been born with a genetic, life-threatening disease, and would need every conceivable medical intervention to survive, from tube-feeding and antibiotics to genetically modifying his white blood cells. And even if we saved his life, he would probably deal with health and developmental issues for the rest of his life.

I learned something very hard in that first year with my second child: nothing can guarantee vibrant health. NOTHING.

* * *

To be honest, I still have a crunchy soul.

I still believe there is healing power in good food and nature. I still believe there is a lot of toxicity in our modern world, thanks to greed + industrialization. I still believe there are limits to what the medical community can offer, and that answers to real health and wellness may often come from outside that world. I still see incredible value in turning to more traditional ways of living for healing.

I still buy mostly organic food, I cook from scratch as much as possible, and I try to avoid pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary. I don’t use anything with synthetic fragrances and I avoid plastics.

But I have come to better appreciate what the scientific and medical community can offer us.

And even more importantly, I’ve come to see that there are dangers hidden within the crunchy community, too.

Three Major Problems with the Cult of Health and Wellness

Over time, I’ve noticed a few major problems that can arise from the being active in the crunchy community. These are all things I’ve experienced personally:

  1. It offers a false sense of control over our health.
  2. It puts unreasonable pressure on individuals to pursue unattainable health.
  3. It ignores and demonizes the very real and good gifts that medicine and science have to offer.

Over the next couple of weeks,* in a short series of posts, I want to explore each of these issues separately.

These issues around being “crunchy” are things I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years, and I just felt it was time to try to articulate them, for myself if for no one else.

I will be very interested in hearing your experiences along the way!

*Or months, if I’m being realistic. I have drafts written already but they are a mess. And I have no idea when I’ll get another good night’s sleep.

5 Things I Learned This Winter (2019)

Winter has always been hard for me.

Seasonal affective disorder runs in my family. Every winter we Friesens all turn into those sad, shriveled little plant creatures in Ursula’s garden in The Little Mermaid.

But it became doubly hard when I had a non-ambulatory child. Navigating a stroller through snow and slush is challenging on a good day; and when said kid fights every step of the bundling-up process the whole thing starts to feel completely futile. We end up spending every day indoors.

And winter became triply hard when said kid decided that sleeping at night was irrelevant.

No sunshine + no exercise + no sleep for months on end = not a good recipe for my mental health.

(The meds and respite care I was so excited about a couple of months ago both ended up not working for us so that’s a bummer.)

BUUUUT we did go on a vacation (which was a bit of a mixed bag — see below) AND we started getting a bit more sleep in these last couple of weeks so it’s not all bad!

Anyway, I’m joining Emily P Freeman to share a few of the things I learned this winter.

1. Family vacations are better with friends when you have young kids.

Last year we went to Florida for ten days to escape the miserable Canadian winter and it was wonderful. The only thing that would have made it better was friends (especially for Lydia, who got bored and lonely without anyone to play with.)

This year we decided to go again — but this time for two weeks, and with another family with young kids. And it was so great!

For one thing, when we all got hit by a violent stomach bug in the first week (EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US), it was really helpful to have another pair of adults to take care of things when one of us was puking our guts out or cleaning toddler vomit out of our hair.

There were four whole adults to take turns with dishwasher duty or to grab diapers from the grocery store, or to google the best route to the zoo. I felt it gave us all a chance to relax a little more than we would have on our own.

And it was so lovely for Lydia to have a playmate around the clock! She was so much happier with a friend.

(Also? We saved so much money! We were able to split the cost of the villa and groceries, making it a very affordable vacation.)

2. I love owning a Kindle Fire.

Our family has never owned a tablet or e-reader before this February, so I didn’t know what I was missing. (We tend to be very late adopters of technology, mostly for financial reasons.)

Anyway, we already owned two laptops and a smartphone each. What else could a tablet possibly offer, I wondered?

Turns out, a lot!

A sweet and generous Internet Friend intuited that I would enjoy having a device on which to read e-books, and decided to gift me a Kindle.

(She consulted me about other e-reader options, but we decided together that a Kindle Fire would probably be most beneficial because I rely heavily on the library and wanted to be able to borrow books using Overdrive and Hoopla. Most other e-readers, including the Kindle Paperwhite, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with those apps, at least in Canada. A Kindle Fire, I learned, is basically just a regular tablet, on which you can link to the Internet and download all sorts of apps; but you can also read e-books on it. I worried at first that it would be uncomfortable to read books off of a screen, but friends assured me they did it all the time and loved it.)

So I got the Kindle Fire. And I can’t believe what I was missing!

One of the first things I did was install Hoopla and download the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels I’ve been pining over ever since we finished the TV series on Netflix. And it worked so great! And looked so beautiful on the screen! I was smitten.

I can finally borrow e-books from the library! I can take advantage of those Kindle deals I’m always seeing! I can read with one hand while holding a cranky Felix! YAY!

3. A Kindle Fire (or other tablet) is an AMAZING resource for homeschooling.

So the NEXT thing I did after tracking down the Avatar books was to download a few free educational games for Lydia to play. And wow! They’re so great! She loves them, and learned so much within the first week! I am just blown away.

As you know, we unschool, and I believe the best and most meaningful learning happens in real life (e.g. the best math learning happens when you save and spend actual money, or take measurements for an actual project, etc). It also works best when it’s self-directed. But sometimes I still wonder if Lydia could benefit from practising traditional math equations and things like that; but that is just not something she’s interested in doing.

Well, there’s an app for that! Or more like, a few dozen!

For example, Pet Bingo has Lydia doing the equivalent of six sheets of math equations to earn a “pet” that she can name and feed and play with. She’ll happily sit and do math for an hour just to find out what cute pet she’ll get. She begs to play! To do MATH EQUATIONS.

These apps are so great for assuaging any worries that she’s not learning enough “school-ish” stuff. (What if she has to take tests for higher education in the future??) And they’re fun enough that she chooses to play out of her own free will.

I feel like an hour of Khan Academy Kids on the Fire is roughly the equivalent of a day at school. Throw in an episode of Wild Kratts and some time at the park/forest/pool/ice rink/etc, and BOOM: you’ve got a pretty well-rounded education for an elementary-school-aged kid.

They’re so accessible, too: the new Fire HD 8 costs about $100 CAD (or less in the US), and I haven’t spent a dollar so far on apps. For that one-time cost you get a whole world of educational material at your fingertips.

I can’t wait to see what else we discover together!

4. Salt Matters.

I guess this was the season that people either felt really sorry for me or just really appreciated me (HA!) because I got another gift in the mail from an Internet Friend: The book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat.

It’s a beautiful book jam-packed with cooking wisdom, and so far I’ve only gotten through the the part on salt. And it convinced me to splurge on some more expensive salts. (She suggests that the two things worth spending more money on are salt and olive oil).

I’d been buying Real Salt for a number of years, but recently decided I should try to save money and just buy some generic sea salt. Salt is salt, right?? But I was surprised to find I was consistently dissatisfied with the results.

Turns out, not all salt is created equal. And different salts work better for different things. The texture of the crystals has a surprising effect on how we experience the flavour. Samin explained it all to me and I suddenly understood why I wasn’t loving the salt I’d bought. (It’s fine for some things, though.)

So I bought another bag of my beloved Real Salt (Really, it’s an extra $9 every six months or so, and it’s a saltier salt so it goes further; and also some fancy fleur to sel for really special occasions.

In fact, I used the fluer de sel for finishing some edamame last week and it elevated the dish from pretty good to sublime.

Who knew salt could make such a difference?

Well, that’s about it for today!

What did you learn this winter?

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Three Resources to Get You Excited About Food Again

breadCan you see the exhaustion in my eyes? You know what, don’t answer that

Note: I am not being compensated for any of these reviews. LOLOLOL, as if someone would pay me for something. I just wanted to share a few things I enjoyed. Amazon links are affiliate links, though.

I’ve been passionate about food production my whole adult life. I love growing it, shopping for it, and preparing it. (Obviously I love eating it, too; but honestly I derive just as much pleasure from squatting in the soil and filling a bowl with fragrant home-grown strawberries as I do the actual eating.)

But like any passion, it ebbs and flows with the passing of time. The last four years have not been very conducive to nurturing my love for food production (or anything else, for that matter) as I’ve had to pour all my energy into parenting a disabled child. It’s been hard. Getting food onto the table for my family these days often feels like an insurmountable burden on my already-bowed back. I’ve found myself reaching more and more for convenience foods and takeout just to keep everyone alive.

I recently decided I needed to nurture my lost enthusiasm for food production by revisiting some of the resources that got me excited about it in the first place. After all, seed-starting season is just around the corner, and last summer we built some raised beds in our sunny front yard with the hope that maybe this year we’ll be able to reap a harvest. (All past attempts to grow anything in our shady back yard have been deeply disappointing.) And along the way I happened to stumble upon a few new ones.

If you could use a boost of energy when it comes to feeding your loved ones, consider checking out of one these resources.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

book

I first read this book when Lydia was a baby and it was a life-changer. Kingsolver, who is a brilliant novelist, writes about her family’s experience devoting one year to eating locally. For twelve months, they dedicate themselves to eating only what they can grow themselves or what they can buy from local farmers within their community. While she’s telling the story she teaches us the basic principles of gardening and poultry farming (They raise chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat). The book is filled with gorgeous descriptions of her garden produce that will make you want to run outside and till up the earth. It also contains reflections on the current (completely unsustainable) state of food production and consumption in the United States. It is both personal and informative, and will get you thinking about where your food comes from.

(I originally read the library’s copy of this book many years ago; this time around I listened to it as an audiobook. I then decided it was important enough to own, so I also bought a hard copy to foist upon friends.)

Cooked with Michael Pollan (Netflix).

This Netflix documentary series is based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read, because that would require two hands that aren’t filled with a screaming child twenty hours a day). It’s divided into four parts, each focusing on one of the four elements — fire, water, air, and earth. As we learn about these four elements we also travel through human history: how we learned to roast meat over fire; how we learned to cook vegetation in pots; how we learned to infuse air into milled grains to create bread; and how we learned to ferment food (especially milk) with microbes before we even knew what they were. So it’s a lesson in anthropology as well as food science, history, geography, and more. Pollan also explores how the mechanization and commercialization of food production by corporations has influenced the ways we eat all around the globe today.

And along the way, you might find yourself developing a deep desire to reconnect with your food. (My husband stayed up and watched the Air episode with me one night and now he wants to learn to master sourdough). And did I mention it’s gorgeously produced? The visuals are absolutely stunning.

This quote from his book really stood out to me: “Is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienating, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for the people you love?” WOW. I love how affirming that is to the home cook.

(Caveat: the first episode on fire has a large emphasis on meat, and therefore on animal killing. If that kind of thing upsets you, you might want to enter with care. There are some pretty graphic scenes right in the beginning of some Indigenous Australian women bashing iguanas to death to roast whole in a bed of hot coals. You also see halved pigs get barbecued over a huge fire.)

Salt Fat Acid Heat with Samin Nosrat (Netflix).

This is another book-turned-Netflix-documentary, a format which is perfect for the parent of never-sleeping children. I watched all four episodes in the dead of night with a kid on my lap. It will make you want to get into the kitchen just for the joy and deliciousness of it.

Like Cooked, it’s divided into four parts, which Nosrat claims are the four building-blocks of flavour. She’s less cerebral than Pollan, and dives into cookery head-first (she’s a chef by trade). She exudes energy and delight for food.

The episode on fat takes her to Italy, where she looks at olive oil, pork fat, and Parmesan cheese. The episode on salt takes her to Japan where she explores sea salt and soy sauce. The episode on acid takes her to Mexico where citrus fruits are a staple in making delicious food. And the episode on heat has her in her home city of Berkeley where she cooks with her mom. The whole series is fun and exuberant, but the trip to Italy was my favourite.

PS I love her casual approach to cooking, her willingness to try new and strange things, and the way she gets her hands right into everything she cooks. She’s a delightful guide.

That’s it for now! Do you have any hands-free resources to recommend to continue fuelling my passion for food?

In Defense of Minimalism: Some Responses to Criticism

felted crocheted hearts

Author’s note: I wrote this post about a year ago, but never published it because I couldn’t wrap it up tidily with a neat conclusion. Buuuut considering the sudden and recent renewed interest in decluttering thanks to Netflix’s new Tidying Up series, I thought I’d go ahead and publish it as it is. Let me know what you think!

I’ve been coming across a bit of criticism of minimalism lately.

I’ve written a fair amount on the subject in the past, so I always perk up when I hear it mentioned.

And almost every time I hear it criticized, one of the first thoughts I have is, “That’s not my understanding of minimalism.”

So I thought I’d take a look at some of these critiques and offer some counterpoints.

But first off, a definition and some clarifications.

“Minimalism” can be used to define a certain kind of aesthetic as well as a lifestyle. They do not necessarily overlap.

Minimalism as an aesthetic is generally recognized by pared down design elements. Most people conjure up mental images of monochromatic colour schemes, clean lines, bare walls, and a perfectly-matching “capsule wardrobe.” Lots of neutral colours, white paint, and sparse decor. Simplicity.

Minimalism as a lifestyle (at least as far I understand it) means intentionally choosing to own fewer possessions. It means paring down to what is essential in life, and getting rid of excess. It’s about letting go of whatever isn’t serving you. This can look different ways for different people.

Like I said, I don’t think these two forms of minimalism necessarily go hand-in-hand. I think you can practice minimalism while still adorning your house and body with lots of colour and flourish.

I don’t have much to say about minimalism as an aesthetic. Some people find it boring. Some people find it calming and refreshing. My response is, That’s totally subjective, and You do you. I like certain things about it, but you definitely wouldn’t walk into my house and immediately say, “Ahhh — you guys are minimalists!”

I’ve written before about what I think are the merits of a minimalist lifestyle, so I won’t go much into it here. In short, I think minimalism can bring freedom, and is generally good for our (mental, physical, and spiritual) health, as well as the planet.

Below are a couple of critiques I’ve recently heard regarding minimalism, and some of my thoughts on them.

October leaves

“Minimalists think they’re better than everyone else.”

I found this complaint in an article entitled, “Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy.” The author writes,

There are a million variations [of minimalism] – fitting all your belongings into a single box, small-house or van living, radical de-cluttering, extreme purges of technology or social activity, etc – but they all hold the same vague, usually unspoken level of superiority.

She later elaborates,

They all imply that they are in some way a moral upgrade from the life of ‘mindless consumerism’… This spiritual minimalism has essentially become yet another competition for who can be the best at whatever you’ve chosen, even if that ‘whatever’ is literally ‘having less shit.’

Okay. So: do minimalists think they’re morally superior? Well, sure, some of them probably do. Maybe even lots of them. But isn’t every subculture susceptible to this kind of snobbery? Even ones that are supposedly based in humility, like Christianity? I’ve heard people complain about the same kind of thing from vegans, democrats, globetrotters, health/fitness fanatics, academics, and artists.

And they’re probably right — to a degree. It’s a problem you’ll find within just about any group, whether it’s centered around a certain philosophy, career path, political affiliation, lifestyle, or religion. We choose these paths because we think they have merit. We think they’re good. And within any subculture, some people are going to be snobs about it.

You can be pretentious about your lifestyle choices or you can be humble about them, whatever they may be.

I’ve heard people be smug and moralistic about their literary tastes. I’ve heard people humblebrag about where they choose to live (i.e. rural vs urban setting). I’ve heard them speak paternalistically about how they spend their money (“Ahem… We value experiences over things”). I’ve even heard people argue haughtily about whose income is further below the poverty line.

I’ve also known some truly humble minimalists, who just don’t want to be caught up in materialism, and are using minimalist principles to make ends meet.

There’s nothing inherently pompous about choosing minimalism — no more than anything else.

And have I ever been douchey about minimalism? Yeah… probably. Sorry about that. I’m a human, and was born desperate for love and validation. I’m trying to do better.

felted wool bowl

“Minimalism is just for rich people.”

I’ve been hearing this one a lot lately. In the article I quoted above, the author argues that “the only people who can ‘practice’ minimalism in any meaningful way are people upon whom it isn’t forced by financial or logistical circumstances.” In other words, poor people don’t have the freedom to choose minimalism. They already don’t have enough. Therefore minimalism is only for the privileged.

She further points out that

Being minimalist in this way […] really just means having enough upfront disposable money to “invest” in your wardrobe and surroundings. Reducing a wardrobe down to a few painfully elegant cashmere-cotton blend tops is only really possible if you can put down at least $1,000 in one go for the creation of your “capsule wardrobe.”

She concludes that “Minimalism is just another form of conspicuous consumption, a way of saying to the world: ‘Look at me! Look at all of the things I have refused to buy!’”

There is definitely some merit to this argument.

Yes, minimalism requires a certain amount of privilege. Truly impoverished and marginalized people don’t have to resources or social capital to “konmari” their homes.

As this article, entitled “The Problem with Minimalism,” explains: “Minimalism is largely something only well-off people can afford to pursue, because their wealth provides a cushion of safety. If they get rid of something, and then need it later, they’ll just buy it again. They don’t need to carry much else besides a wallet when they’re out and about; if they need something, they’ll just buy it on the fly. No sweat. If you’re not so well-off, however, having duplicates of your possessions can be necessary, even if such back-ups ruin the aesthetics of owning just 100 possessions. “

These are great points.

But you don’t have to be wealthy to choose to pare down your possessions or to choose to live with less than your neighbours.

You don’t have to buy one pair of $200 jeans so you can turn up your nose at the rest.

You can totally be a minimalist who shops at thrift stores.

In fact, I’ve found that minimalism has made it easier to live on a budget.

And part of the reason I know this is because I’ve heard so many lower-middle-income people say that minimalism has actually helped them live on a budget. Striving to own fewer possessions makes it easier to get by on less.

My own family lives on an income below the poverty line, and minimalism helps make that possible.

It’s partly because I don’t have a huge wardrobe, or buy the kids a ton of toys, or own a lot of electronic devices, that we can afford to survive on one small income.

tulips

“Minimalism isn’t Christian because it’s focused on the self.”

I heard this criticism come up on a podcast that I actually really love, called The Upside Down Podcast. The hosts attempt to differentiate between minimalism and “downward mobility.” “Downward mobility,” they argue, is a lifestyle choice focused on the well-being of others. Minimalism, by contrast, is just about improving your own life and your own well-being, so it’s not inherently Christian.

However, I think this contrast is based on a false dichotomy between helping yourself and helping others. I don’t think these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes, helping yourself is also good for the people around you.

Choosing minimalism for your own benefit is not like greed, wherein your help yourself at the expense of someone else.

I think practicing minimalism can be mutually beneficial, to you and the people around you. Of course, minimalism is not automatically or inherently helpful to the people around you; but I think if done well and with the right spirit, it can benefit others beyond yourself.

If you pare down your possessions to the things you actually need and use, you can give the excess to people who could make use of those things. Instead of hanging onto things that will just gather dust in your basement, you can share them with people who might actually use and appreciate them.

Less clutter in your own life can also bring you more peace, time and energy, that you can then share with others.

So do I think minimalism inherently Christian? Well, no, of course not. You can be a minimalist and a totally self-centered douchecanoe. And you can totally be a Christian without practicing minimalism.

But greed, by contrast, definitely is NOT Christian, and I think minimalism can be a very useful tool to fight against greed.

Some of the central tenets of Jesus’ message include generosity, sacrifice, sharing, and equity. His gospel is about lowering yourself and lifting others up.

I personally think minimalism aligns with that message, if it is done with a spirit of generosity and love.

* * *

So these are just a few of my thoughts when it comes to criticism of minimalism.

What do you think?

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What’s Saving My Life Right Now

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Hi, friends! I thought I’d pop in today to share some positivity: here are six things that are making life better for me these days.

1. Antidepressants for my preschooler.

This past October we hit a wall with Felix’s sleep. He was nearing four years old and still not sleeping through the night — in fact, it was just getting worse. he was up 3-5 hours every night and it was taking its toll on the whole family. We were all miserable and barely functioning. So I finally took him to his pediatrician and said, “HELP.”

She looked into my bloodshot eyes and decided to prescribe him an antidepressant that causes drowsiness as a side effect. I’m about as anti-drug as you can get but I was desperate and willing to try anything. We started giving it to him every night before bed.

His sleep has improved immensely since then. He almost always sleeps until at least 4:30 am; and when he does wake up at night, he usually falls back asleep within an hour.

Everyone is happier, including Felix.

2. Respite care for my preschooler.

felix and me

In my mid-October desperation I also reached out to our family coordinator who had helped us apply for funding for respite care for Felix earlier in the year. The application had been accepted months earlier, but we’d been informed that there was an unusually long waiting period for the funding to actually kick in. Like, up to a year’s wait.

The coordinator sensed the desperation in my voice and applied for some temporary, private funding to hold us over until the government funding could take over.

So now we have funding for six hours of respite care a week. His worker picks him up to go to her house, and for six hours a week I can spend time focusing on Lydia’s homeschooling, or housecleaning, or even on myself. When he comes home I am refreshed and happy to see him. It’s been pretty glorious.

3. Crafting.

You guys have seen me take up crocheting and then knitting and then watercolour painting. And over the last year I’ve also become obsessed with calligraphy.

A week or two ago my mom asked me if I would do some hand-lettering on some wood discs she’d cut up in my dad’s shop and I happily obliged. And I was so pleased with the results I started making some for friends and then I started to offer them for sale on social media to local friends.

Before I knew it, I was getting Ben to slice up branch after branch and drill and spray my little creations as I pumped out more hand-lettered ornaments. It was kind of taking over my life. And I LOVED every minute.

I really don’t have time for this nonsense. And I only made enough money to cover costs plus a little extra so I could buy even more to my craft supplies, but it was so satisfying to be creative. Crafting just makes my life better.

I feel most like myself when I’m making beautiful things.

4. Walter Geoffrey the Frenchie.

walter

Guys, I’m not really into pet Instagram accounts. But a few months ago I stumbled upon WalterGeoffreytheFrenchie and . . . just . . . WOW. Have you seen this guy?? Oh my goodness. He gives me life. He’s an adorable but opinionated French bulldog with an incredibly unique . . . I’m gonna say, voice? Nothing perks me up like Walter’s bizarre, one-of-a-kind screaming.

Watch this video to get a taste of his personality if you haven’t already met Walter. And then follow his Instagram. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, I promise he will cheer you up.

5. Pentatonix Christmas music.

To add to the list of things I’m not really into: Christmas music. I’m generally just not a fan.

But I love Pentatonix Christmas music. I love a cappella in general, and I specifically love the way they infuse new energy into old Christmas songs. And they have like seven Christmas albums. I will happily listen to Pentatonix all December. (I just listen to them on Spotify.) Give them a listen if you haven’t already!

6. The new local shawarma place.

shawarma

Our small, rural, mostly-white town isn’t known for its cuisine. Nobody drives to our town to get dinner (although our Vietnamese restaurant has the best pho in the county). We’ve had a hard time finding a place to get takeout when we want to get dinner on a short notice, and have basically only patronized the local Vietnamese restaurant for the last decade.

But our town recently got a new shawarma place and it is the best. Since we discovered it a month ago we have been getting takeout from there on almost a weekly basis. For $15 we can get a huge shawarma plate containing enough food for both me and Ben — we each get one wrap, plus three delicious sides. It is making me so happy.

That’s about it for now! What’s been saving your life these days?

PS follow me on Instagram to see what I’m up to on a day-to-day basis!

4 Things I Learned This Fall {2018}

Once again, I’m joining Emily Freeman and sharing a few things I learned over the last three months. Wheeee!

1. Puffball mushrooms are edible.

puffball mushroom

Have you ever found one of these quirky mushrooms growing in your back yard or maybe the park? They looks like balls of white bread dough rising at random on your lawn. They have no real stem, they’re just irregular spheres of fungus that grow right out of the ground. They pop up in our back yard every so often, and we always thought they were funny but didn’t think much of them.

Until I stumbled on a Facebook post where people were talking about eating them. I was intrigued and did some googling, and lo and behold: they’re edible! So the next time a bunch of puffball mushrooms appeared in our back yard, we gave them a try!

puffball mushroom chopped

puffball cooked

We picked the biggest ones, and I peeled them, sliced them up (they look like giant marshmallows from the inside!), and fried them in a bunch of butter. They’re really good! They have a very mild mushroom flavour, with a very soft texture — like soft tofu. I liked them best in my red curry. I love eating free food out of my back yard!

2. Red+green=yellow??? A.k.a. Mixing coloured light is completely different from mixing paint.

mixing coloured light

Did you guys know this? I did not know this, and I’m embarrassed that it took me 33 years to learn in.

Growing up, I was taught that there are three primary colours: red, blue, and yellow. You cannot make these colours from any other other colours. All other colours come from these colours. The end. Right?

I was vaguely aware that computers used RBG (red, blue and green) pixels, but that didn’t make any sense because where does yellow come from? Everyone knows you can’t make yellow. Right? It’s a primary colour. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT.

WELL GUESS WHAT. Mixing paint and mixing light are not the same at all. RBY are the primary colours when it comes to solids/liquids, like paint, but light is a different story.

I learned this from Lydia’s second Kiwi Crate, which was all about light. It came with lots of cool things, including little finger lights in red, blue and green. Because when it comes to light, the three primary colours are in fact red, blue and green, and you can create yellow by mixing red and green.

WHAT. I could not believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.

red geen yellow

Mind = blown.

A few weeks later Lydia noticed the same phenomenon in Felix’s new bubble tube, which we got him for his birthday. The LED lights at the bottom change colours to change the colours of the bubbles; and she noticed that yellow bubbles were created with red and green lights:

bubble tube yellowI still can’t believe it. My whole life has been a lie.

3. A Cozy Cabin Getaway in Fall is Quite Nice.

cabin vacation

If you know me at all, you know that I love summer and hate winter, and resent fall just for being the traitor that leads from one to the other. My idea of the perfect vacation involves sunshine and beaches. I want to be barefoot and sipping a cold beer or iced coffee.

But this year, we didn’t manage to plan an anniversary trip until late October. Ben and I ended up renting a cabin a few hours north of where we live, right on the Georgian Bay.

And guys: it was delectable.

The forests were ablaze with amber and orange. Our daily hikes were made more magical by the presence of falling snowflakes. And I thoroughly enjoyed snuggling up on the cabin couch with my knitting and murder mystery novel.

Maybe fall isn’t so bad after all.

4. You can make ink out of black walnuts and dye with weeds (and beans).

I wrote full posts about both of these things, so I won’t go into detail here. But this year I happened to learn a lot about the pigments available to me in my own neighbourhood for creating my own natural inks and dyes.

If you haven’t already read them, here are my posts:

How to make your own black walnut ink:

black walnut ink calligraphyHow to dye wool with plants:

dyeing wool with plants

I never wrote about this, but I also dyed some yarn using black beans! I followed these instructions.

black bean dye

I was going for a blue, but ended up with this lovely lilac colour:

dye wool with black beansStill cool.

All right, that’s it for now! Hope you’ve been having a good autumn! What did you learn this season?

KiwiCrate Review: Our Experience After Three Months

kiwicrate review

Hi friends! When I shared a few pictures of my daughter enjoying her Kiwi Crate on Instagram a few months back, a few of you expressed interest in a review. So here it is! I am not being paid to share, and I bought a subscription out of my own pocket. I just know that I would have appreciated an unbiased review when I was first considering the product. (Note: if you make a purchase through my link, I do get referral credit! You and I each get $10 off.)

For those who are unfamiliar: KiwiCo is a monthly subscription service, which provides children with a box of STEM-related activities that includes all the materials, instructions, and supplementary information for a hands-on learning experience. They do ALL the brain-work for you, so you don’t have to plan or gather materials. You can just open it up and get to work! They offer boxes for several different age groups, from 0-16 (e.g. ages 0-2 is called the Tadpole Crate; ages 9-16 is called the Tinker Crate). We got the Kiwi Crate, for ages 5-8. Lydia is seven, and it was perfect for her.

I initially bought a three-month subscription to try it out. I’ll be up-front: Kiwi Crate is rather expensive, and I was nervous to make too big a commitment in case Lydia didn’t like it. However, of course, the bigger the subscription you buy, the better the value. (I’ll go into detail about price later.)

I decided to make the leap because we don’t spend any money on curriculum (we unschool), so I felt I could splurge on this. Science/technology/engineering/math are NOT my strong points, so I was happy to let someone else do the work for me here. Especially if these subjects could be introduced in a fun, engaging way without evaluation or pressure of any kind. I wanted something that might inspire her to dig deeper into STEM without external prodding.

I’m glad I didn’t just buy a single box, because our first one was the least impressive one we got, and wasn’t the best representation of what’s available. I mean, it was still good; but if I would have had to make my decision to continue based on that box alone, it would have been a tough one. The next two were completely fabulous and totally won me over, though. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay. Let’s cover some of the details.

What does Kiwi Crate cost?

kiwi crate activities

Kiwi Crates are more affordable if you live in the US, because shipping is free there. We live in Canada, and so the shoddy current exchange rate, plus the additional $5.95/month shipping fee, make it more expensive. (Note: Kiwi Crates can be shipped all over the world, with varying shipping costs attached.)

You can check the website for all the details on cost. As for me in Canada, I got the 3-month subscription, and it had a “50% off the first crate” special going at the time. I ended up paying $89 after taxes and shipping, which worked out to about $30CAD per crate. It’s a little spendy.

If I was in the US, it would have cost about $17.29USD/crate for the same subscription, which is a lot more affordable. It would be even less per crate if you got, say, a full year subscription.

There are regular sales on the site. At the moment of this writing, you can get 60% off your first month when you use the code EARLY, but this is always changing. Check the site to see what the current deal is.

What’s inside a Kiwi Crate?

The best way to explain what’s inside a Kiwi Crate is to show you exactly what was in ours!

First Crate: Arcade

The theme of the first crate was “arcade.” It had more of an engineering emphasis.

It contained all the tools and materials to put together a wooden claw. It contained extremely detailed instructions, with pictures, so that she could do all the steps with very little guidance from me. (She probably would have needed almost none if she could read.) It also contained everything she needed to make two little pompom creatures to grab with her claw (including googly eyes!).

kiwi crate arcade 1

kiwi crate arcade 2(Here you can get a glimpse of how beautiful the design is.)

kiwi crate arcade 3(Completely unrelated: Look at those flexible feet. Katy Bowman would be proud!)

Each box also comes with a small magazine, containing a short comic, some activities (games, mazes, etc), ideas for additional projects, and suggestions to extend the use of the crate contents.

kiwi crate magazine

kiwi crate comic

Crate #2: Rainbow Optics

This was the first crate to really dazzle us. In it, we learned all about light! It contained:

Everything needed to make a beautiful colour-changing lamp:

rainbow optics 2Everything needed to make this shadow projection box, including finger lights:

rainbow optics 1

mixing coloured light

And a pair of glasses that breaks white light into coloured light. Here’s a shot of what it looked like to look at our kitchen pot lights through them:

Just so awesome. Even I learned a lot about mixing coloured light!

Box #3: Secret Agent

This box was the absolute coolest, and was the most fun. (But also maybe the least science-y. I don’t know if we learned anything beyond “UV lights are so cool!”) It included…

Everything you need to make a periscope, for spying around corners:

kiwi crate periscope

Everything you need to make a briefcase full of materials for writing secret messages:

kiwi crate secret agent

There were two ways to share secret messages: either by writing with the included markers on red squiggly “spy paper,” which you can decipher if you wear the red “spy glasses”:

secret message(Through the glasses you can see the message “I LOVE YOU MOM” — awwwww)

Or by writing on white paper with the invisible pen, and then shining the included UV light onto it:

kiwi crate UV light(Lydia decided to use it to practice math equations. I did not dissuade her.)

The included magazine gave us lots of ideas for additional spy activities the next day, including taking fingerprints and writing secret messages with lemon juice, which can be revealed with a hot iron (not pictured).

Final Verdict

Well. After our first three month subscription ran out, I went ahead and got another six-month subscription. I decided it was worth it!

The cost is a bit more than I would prefer, but Lydia just had so much fun putting them together, and the magazines sparked lots of interesting experiments and learning opportunities for us to bond over that I really appreciated. Plus, it’s really fun for Lydia to get stuff in the mail with her own name on it!

I would especially recommend them for US residents, for whom they are more affordable.

I think a Kiwi Crate subscription would make a great gift, especially for kids who already have all the toys they need. Remember, there are different boxes for different ages! If you order now, you can probably get the first box in time for Christmas!

Again, if you make a purchase through my referral link, you get $10 off your first crate.

What do you think? Does Kiwi Crate look worth it to you?

 

Make Your Own Black Walnut Ink

homemade black walnut ink2Hi friends! In my last post, I talked about my recent adventures in dyeing wool with plants. Today, I want to share another really fun experiment I tried: making my own blank walnut ink! It was incredibly rewarding.

I followed the instructions offered by You Grow Girl, but honestly, it’s so easy you hardly need instructions.

First, my daughter and I collected about 20 black walnuts off the ground from a local park. We did this in late September. They were still green, but we wanted to grab them before the squirrels got them all. The pigment comes from the skin, so you need them to have the skin still intact.

black walnuts

Then I threw them in an enameled stock pot, covered them with water, and left them outside to let them blacken and ferment for about three weeks. (Note: by the end, there was a tiny bit of mould floating on top. I just scooped it off with a slotted spoon. It didn’t harm the finished ink.)

Then I put it on an outdoor burner and let it simmer for a couple of hours. (It has a strong, woodsy smell, so I preferred to do it outside). Then I just turned it off and let it cool overnight.

boiling

The next morning, I strained out the walnuts (I left them outside for the squirrels to help themselves to) and moved the ink to a smaller pot. I let it simmer a little longer on the stove inside to increase the intensity of the pigment.

Annnnd… that’s it! I ended up with about two cups of liquid. I was amazed to discover that the very first time I dipped my pen into the still-warm liquid, I had a gorgeous, brown-black ink that flowed perfectly and dried with a slight sheen. It worked beautifully with my inexpensive pointed nib pen. (I have this set of nibs with this holder — the ink works great with the 512 — the total ensemble costs less than $10.)

I added a few tablespoons of rubbing alcohol as a preservative.

I transferred a small amount into a tiny glass jar I’d saved, to make dipping easier.

black walnut ink

After testing the ink out on different papers, I found that it worked best on my Strathmore Calligraphy paper. (It doesn’t bleed, and it doesn’t snag on the nib.) It was so fun, Lydia couldn’t stop playing with it.

drawing with walnut ink

black walnut ink drawinglady knight, done in black walnut ink

I was amazed how well the ink and pen worked together: I could write up to three sentences out with a single dip. And it’s so fun! You feel like Shakespeare! (Note: I realize he probably used oak gall ink.)

black walut ink test

It works great in calligraphy…

black walnut ink calligraphy(Full disclosure: I practised about 20 times before creating what you see here)

A few days later I learned how to make a folded pen and gave it a whirl with my new ink. I LOVED the results.

homemade folded pen and black walnut ink

All in all, the whole experience was just so fun and satisfying, and didn’t take much time or effort.

I honestly prefer my homemade ink to the India ink and calligraphy ink I’ve purchased! It looks deeper and richer when it dries. It does take a long time to dry, though, which is especially challenging as a leftie.

If you’ve got access to a black walnut tree dropping nuts onto the ground (and, you know, I desire to use a dip pen), I highly recommend giving it a try!



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