Month: October 2014

Happy Candy-o-ween!

We often struggle with ethics as our family approaches mainstream holiday events.  It is a time where we come up against issues of balance; wanting our children to know what’s happening in mainstream culture (to a certain extent) and sheltering them from it at the same time.  Halloween is one of those occasions.

We are going to take our children trick-or-treating this evening, but only to 5 or 6 houses of the families in the neighbourhood that we know.   We don’t want our children eating candy.  We try to limit it as much as possible.  On the other hand, we don’t want them feeling they were ‘deprived’ as a child and develop an unhealthy relationship with unhealthy eating later in life.  There are so many things about sugar that are problematic, so we try to limit it as much as possible, opting for less refined local sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup, whenever possible.

We find our home better without refined sugars.  Rob and I have both experienced marked reactions to it, namely in the form of anxiety.  We have yet to discover if this holds true for the children, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t.  Recent studies have shown that sugar is as addictive as cocaine and recommend that it be a controlled substance.  After holidays like Halloween, I admit we find ourselves weaning our family from another sugar addiction.

Perhaps rather than feeling like I need to ‘put my foot down’ on another issue of discontent, I could create something positive instead.  Something which breathes life and grows community.  I long for a halloween where I don’t need to take my children out to ask neighbours for candy.  One where we get together for a wagon ride and hot apple cider, enjoy each other’s carved pumpkins, and play old fashioned party games that are now seen as ‘too dangerous,’ like bobbing for apples.

At the very least, it would be nice to be able to pass out something homemade and even (shall I say it?) healthy, without the impending reality of it being thrown out.  I wonder which is more safe…eating exorbitant amounts of packaged and processed sugar or chancing it on some homemade goodies while sharing some germs over apple bobbing?


Autumn Quinoa Harvest Stew Recipe

I am in love with autumn.  It is my favourite season.  The smells, the feel of the air, the beauty in decay, the harvest.  I have come to look forward to the tastes of fall as well.  I thought I would share one of my favourite recipes of the season!  We make it often, and it can be sourced from nearly all local ingredients (except the quinoa and spices).

In any case, here is one of my favourite one pot, vegan meals:



1/2 c Quinoa – rinsed well, but not cooked

2 TBSP Butter, ghee, or Earth Balance

3/4 c chopped onion

1 TBSP Minced fresh ginger

3/4 c Orange juice, apple juice or apple cider

2/3 c Water

2 TBSP Honey

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Ground coriander

1/4 tsp Ground cardamom

1/8 tsp Ground nutmeg

1 c Diced sweet potato

1 c Diced butternut squash

1 1/2 c Cooked beans (larger beans are nice)

1/4 c Chopped cranberries

Preparation Method

Melt the butter or ghee in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and ginger, and cook, stirring, until onion is softened.

Stir in the fruit juice, water, honey, salt, coriander, cardamom, and nutmeg; bring to a boil.

Stir in the sweet potato and squash; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, 8 minutes.

Stir in the beans and quinoa, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Stir in the cranberries; simmer, covered, 5-10 minutes longer, or until quinoa is cooked.
Calories: 345 Total Fat: 6.7 g Protein: 10.8 g Saturated
Fat: 1.3 g Carbohydrates: 56.0 g Cholesterol: 0
Fiber: 8.8 g Sodium: 392 mg

The Disillusionment of Holiday Shopping

As the season progresses deep into autumn and harvest and processing slows down, I’m often looking for ways to augment Christmas presents beyond what we have prepared ourselves for giving as gifts.  We have been slowly moving away from commercial influences at Christmas time over the past few years.  It has been a slow process.  I enjoy making handcrafted items for people but I often feel as though my handmade items aren’t ‘good enough’ in some way and they must be paired with something purchased from a store.  What a silly inkling, as if these items imported from elsewhere weren’t handmade by strangers!

Nevertheless, I like to be prepared early for Christmas so that when the snow flies, I can focus on the simplicity of being with family.  I try to get my shopping done before the ‘holiday season’ even begins.  I have a difficult time navigating my shopping trips at the best of times, let alone when the climate of buying intensifies at Christmas.  I also feel the undeniable cultural pull of wanting – the pressure to consume rather than to give.

In honour of early starts to my shopping, I headed out last night to purchase Rob’s Christmas gift.  We try to buy each other something practical, that we wouldn’t normally splurge on for ourselves.  I found the perfect thing and it was on sale, so it was time.  The item had sold out.  Leaving with only a rain check in hand, I decided to try and finish the rest of my shopping for the season.

My list this year is short for a few reasons.  Firstly, we are trying to give gifts we have made ourselves.  Secondly, I need to clean out my gift cupboard.  Thirdly, we would rather give less but give quality (useful, consumable, well made, thoughtful, in line with our values, etc).

I recently found a Spiderman figure at the grocery store on one of my late night expeditions for food.  One of those times where I’m sleepily meandering the aisles making it look like I know what I’m doing.  The boys have been enamoured with the idea of Spiderman since we saw him and Ironman in costume at the local Canada Day celebrations this year.  The boys like to dress up like them and stomp around the house, getting up to all sorts of interesting antics.  And by dress up, I mean pulling decorative pillow shams over their heads…with the pillows still in them!  When I saw the Spiderman figures had been marked down to $2, I carefully picked through all the packages looking for one that did not come with a weapon of some sort.  I settled on the only one not wielding something dangerous: Underwater Spiderman, complete with a mask and air tanks for scuba diving.

Last night as I popped in and out of many local shops,  picking up some small items, but I still had not found what I was looking for.  I needed to even the score…I still had only ONE Spiderman action figure.  I was looking for an Ironman figure to give to my 2 year old.  In an effort to complete my holiday shopping last night, I headed to Walmart to buy it.  I beelined it to the back of the store.  I found the Ironman figures hanging from a peg, and picked through the line of boxes with the same scrutinous care I had exercised at the grocery store.  Settling on two Ironman figurines with the same ‘rotating shield.’  I carefully considered each one; the paint colour, the size, the quality of the joints and overall appeal.  I headed toward the cash with the better one in hand.  On the long walk to the cash, I tuned out the noise around me and pondered what I was about to do.  As I approached the front of the store, I gently laid Ironman on the cases of Coke piled by the entrance, and walked out the door.

My apologies to the staff member who had to put Ironman back in his designated spot in the toy aisle…I had to get out.

As for Spiderman, he will soon be well loved in his new home.  It just won’t be ours.

Date Night at a Climate Change Panel

Rob and I had a date night last week.  We headed into Western University for a panel discussion on Climate Change.  It was a sobering evening.  I often want to bury my head in the sand on these issues to a certain degree.  I know it’s happening, but it’s easier to carry on with my day to day life when I don’t have to think about the fact that life on earth is teetering on the edge of extinction.  I’m not trying to suggest that I have a ‘business as usual’ attitude, moreover, I can’t function when I’m operating in a state of feeling my pain for the world situation.

The panel discussion we attended had some excellent speakers, university professors, local government, a member of the UN and Globe and Mail National Affairs columnist, Jeffrey Simpson.  The topic was: what can we do?  It was such an interesting discussion, because the recommendation was the same from all levels and approaches: to open people’s eyes to the reality of this situation.  Do something.  Do anything.

Some salient points I took away from the discussion include:

  • stop preaching to the converted – we need to enliven those who aren’t yet acting!  Also, the point was made to not waste one’s energy on people who are avid climate change deniers.
  • changing our actions to mitigate climate change can only have a positive influence on the world, so we’ve got nothing to lose!
  • listen
  • speak to people from a place of empathy
  • find out what people’s currency is.  Figure out what is important to them and find a way to make that issue relevant or related to mitigating climate change as well. For example, people are worried about the economy and feel that deserves more attention than environmental issues.  The argument can be made that by taking on environmental issues we can create more jobs and solve BOTH problems.  We need creative thinking to make these types of connections in as many ways as possible.  Who doesn’t love a win-win solution!
  • Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead (including the government) –  many countries in the UN are flip-flopping on this issue.  Canada, USA, and Australia have vested interest in oil not being limited, and policy change in the UN requires consensus.
  • …and another note not mentioned at the panel: divest in oil companies.  If it can stop apartheid in South Africa, it can stop the oil companies too.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

Ringing in the Garlic


Yesterday was the epitome of a beautiful fall day where we live.  As the leaves begin to crumple and the frost lies heavy on the morning world, we are reminded of the closing of this year, but also the potential of next year’s harvest.  We are currently working on our tree guilds.  With all of our fruiting bushes and trees in the ground, we are working on expanding their rings as the branches expand.  Each year, we plant a slightly larger ring of garlic around each tree or bush.  This not only helps keep pests away from fruiting plants, but maximizes yield.  Planting in a ring makes lots of space, and since we’re planing into an already mulched and cleared area, the garlic crop is well protected and has been very abundant in the past.  We had a wonderful garlic crop this year, and have only planted in about a quarter of what we harvested!


After clearing the mulch and weeds away from the outer ring of the tree, we sprinkled some wood ash around.  Then we placed the garlic cloves about 6 inches apart around the circle, root side down.  The garlic cloves were then covered over with some mulched leaves from our lawn.  Then we put cardboard around the outside of the garlic in a ring (sheet composting to choke out the grass as the ring around the tree grows larger) and covered the whole lot with wood chips.  We were lucky enough to score a truck load of free poplar wood chips this year, as the hydro company was doing work on our street.

This activity was a great thing for us to share with the children.  They really enjoyed getting their hands (and hair as it were) dirty!  To me, this is the best way to teach forest gardening…by getting my children involved in the process!

Perceptions of Chaos

It has been said on a number of occasions and by a variety of people that aspects of my life are chaotic.  Is it chaos when the baby is crying and the boys are playing tag inside?  Is it chaos when my breakfast bar is covered in toys?  Is it chaos when we’re organizing ourselves to get in the car?

I always feel the gut clench of judgement when someone uses that word.  Perhaps because what I’m seeing does not match the label.  Perhaps because the word ‘chaos’ carries with it such negative connotations.  Perhaps because I am coming to recognize that it is by living in this so called ‘chaos’ that we are actually learning and growing. Perhaps it is just other people’s way to ‘deal’ with our life choices which don’t fit into conventional boxes.  When things aren’t ‘normal’ (whatever that is) then we seek to box it, label it, or in some way contain it – to create ‘order.’  This response to difference offers us the illusion of control.

Reflecting on what most people view as chaos, but that which is actually bursting with vibrancy, I am reminded a forest garden.  When we first started to convert our property, we were met with many comments of disapproval and warning.  Amidst the manicured lawns and flower gardens of our town, we stick out.  Our garden is messy.  It is unruly.  It is thriving.  The roots run deep.  Our plants have been carefully selected and don’t require fertilizers, watering, or much intervention at all for that matter.  Our systems self-sustain because of careful planning and forethought.

Nature gracefully soldiers on, without needing to be corrected.  Isn’t it when we try to contain or control natural chaos that we run into problems.  Weeds grow because they are given the opportunity to, because a space has been left for them.  The problem isn’t that there are too many weeds, the problem is that there aren’t enough plants.

Season of Decay

Fall is the time of harvest, of endings, and ultimately a time of decay.  It is this time of year where what is left over returns to the earth and becomes fodder for next year’s yield.  We are blessed to live in Ontario, where we get to experience four seasons a year.  As I move through the seasons, I’m reminded of the cycles of life.

I have also been making connections to my cycles of learning.  What once seemed like ripe fruit is now old, fallen, shrivelled and inedible.  How when I take on new ideas and incorporate them into my life, there is a natural decay of old ideas, contributing as compost for future growth.  I am a sum of my experiences – no waste.

There is a science experiment you can do with children, where you take a green leaf and soak it in rubbing alcohol in order to remove the chlorophyl from the leaf.  When this happens, the true colours of the leaves are revealled – reds, oranges and yellows.  As my thinking and living moves further from convention, I am curious to see what true colours lie beneath the green of my leaves?  What will each season of decay reveal for my family tree?