My Favourite Canning & Preserving Books

‘Tis the season for canning and preserving! We received our first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share last week, and that means that now is the time to get moving on preserving seasonal foods so that we can enjoy them year-round.

There are a few fundamental things that you need in order to can and preserve food, beyond just the food itself. You need jars (with lids and rims) and a water bath canner at the very least, but other important items also include a jar lifter, a magnet for lids, and potentially a pressure canner. And, of course, you need to know how to can and  preserve properly. And for that, you need guides and recipes!

favourite canning books

It’s important to follow instructions very carefully when it comes to canning and to use safe canning methods to ensure botulism and other serious issues don’t occur. I’m reluctant to use canning recipes from the Internet, and feel as though books are a better go-to (especially because they’re significantly more likely to use appropriate and safe methods!). This is probably only because I’m still a novice canner – I’m sure that as I can and preserve more often, I’ll get to really know the ins and outs of how to can and preserve safely, but for now I’m following the recipes exactly. And that means I need to have some trusty books to rely on!

Here are my top three favourite canning and preserving books:

  • Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More.

This is a simple book which outlines the basic of canning and preserving. One of my favourite parts about it is that it provides minute details and a lot of great photographs featuring exactly what to do when you’re using a water bath canner. There are even instructions and photographs for cleaning the rims of your jars after you’ve put the food in there.

Canning & Preserving was the book that really paved the way for me when I started canning, and made me feel super comfortable with the process. It’s a great book for if you’re just starting out and want to know every detail for every step along the way!

This book doesn’t contain a huge amount of recipes, but the dill pickles, canned corn, and crushed tomatoes recipes are all fantastic. Recipes are easy to follow and everything is laid out in a very straightforward manner. This book is also a little less intimidating because there aren’t that many recipes. This is the perfect book for beginner canners.

  • Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 delicious and creative recipes for today.

As the title suggests, there are an insane amount of recipes in this book! It’s pretty awesome. I’ve bookmarked dozens of recipes I want to try, and they have a lot of basic canning recipes (for canning dark leafy greens and a whole bunch of other plain vegetables, rather than pickled, for example).

If you want to can everything you can think of, and really have a proper store of homemade everything to last you until next year’s canning season, then this book is the one for you. However, it can be a little overwhelming when you’re just starting out. There are so many recipes to try! I didn’t make use of it a huge amount last year, but I expect I will be trying out a lot more recipes using the book this year.

canning book

  • Canning for a New Generation: bold, fresh flavors for the modern pantry.

My friend Carly gave me this book as a very early birthday present this year! This book divides the recipes into seasons, and has all kinds of very interesting and unique recipes (cumin and paprika pickled turnip, anyone?). What I also really like about the book is that it includes plenty of non-canning recipes, from cakes to cocktails, which use items that you have preserved as ingredients. It also talks about how to properly freeze foods and that sort of thing, so there is a lot of variety.

Even better, this book appears to only include water bath canning recipes – so if you’re scared of using a pressure canner, this book is perfect for you! There are also cute little gift tags to pull out at the back of the book, reminding readers that canned and preserved goods can be one of the best gifts to give.

What are some of your favourite canning books or ingredients to preserve? What are you most looking forward to this canning season? Is canning something you do every year? Share in the comments section below!

Getting Past the Perils of Cycling in Winnipeg

Walking has always been my transportation mode of choice. But in the summer when you want to get around without taking a huge chunk of time out of your day, cycling is an excellent alternative. You can get everywhere so much faster on a bike! It’s great…

perils of biking

Cycling in the rain can be quite enjoyable! As long as you’re wearing clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and you are on your way home, of course.

The Perils of Cycling in Winnipeg

…Except, of course, for the many perils associated with biking around Winnipeg. From bike lanes that cars don’t pay attention to (or which mysteriously vanish after a few blocks) to the horrendous conditions of our roads to the ridiculous amount of bugs flying in your face to cars almost hitting you to getting sprayed from puddles and mud, biking can be a perilous excursion indeed!

My most recent gripe with cycling was when Mr Science and I biked a few blocks in a worm-infested area of the city last week, after Btk had been applied. This meant that we were cycling over what looked like mud, but which was probably (as Mr Science broke it to me afterward) a combination of mud and dead worms. Ewwwww. It also didn’t help that I evidently need better bike guards, because that mud mixture sprayed up all over my clothes *shudder* (showering and doing laundry has never felt quite so fantastic).

sunshine cycling

Biking is quite enjoyable when the weather is JUST right.

Don’t get me wrong – I adore biking. You can get around so fast, and it’s a really enjoyable activity. But there are certainly some things – such as the weather conditions and possible caterpillar control – to take into consideration prior to going for that bike ride.

About Caterpillar Control (Some Background on Btk)

In light of our most recent experience, Mr Science decided to write about the worms and Btk (being a science-y person, and all). Here is what he has to say on the subject:

Recently the city we live in announced that it was going to spray Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) in an attempt to control a span worm (AKA inch worm) infestation that is occurring this year. This led us to question, just what is Btk and what does it do?

First, a little background information on the span worm is in order. The span worm is a very common caterpillar from the Order Lepidoptera that has a characteristic way of walking where the upper body attaches to a substrate, followed by the movement of the lower body in close proximity with the upper body, which forms a characteristic ‘loop’ structure. These worms feed on leaves of host trees and can often be seen hanging from the trees on silk threads. The life cycle of the worm includes six instars (caterpillar life stages) prior to pupation (moth development).

Control of these caterpillar populations is a common practice that is often undertaken through the application of Btk. This is because Btk is an insecticide that affects only caterpillars of Lepidoptera and has no known effect on other insects, mammals, birds, or fish.

The way that Btk works is through application via spraying programs where the leaves that the caterpillars eat are coated with the biological pesticide. The caterpillars eat the leaves, ingesting the Btk where their alkaline (pH 7-14) digestive systems cause a crystalline protein (produced by the bacteria) to attach to the cells of the digestive system, leading to the disruption of normal cell function and eventual cell death. This essentially leads to perforation of the caterpillar’s digestive system, which then leads to digestive juices escaping the digestive tract, mixing with the blood and interfering with other organ systems, ultimately leading to the caterpillar’s death.

Btk seems to be an effective control of caterpillar populations if applied in the right conditions, and a major benefit of this pesticide is that it is easily degraded by rain and sun and so does not accumulate in the environment.

After the Btk situation, I am making a point of being verchoosy regarding when I wear my new sparkly silver ballet flats on a bike ride – but mostly, I’m just embracing the fact that when it comes to cycling, there are some minor frustrations you might have to deal with, but it is totally worth the enjoyment (and the environmental-friendlieness!) of getting out on the road.

Are you a cyclist? What do you like best about cycling? What’s the cycling situation like in your city? Share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions in the comments section below!

Thank you to Mr Science for providing some insight on Btk and worms!

Six healthy and delicious breakfasts to start eating now

Mr Science and I have perfected the art of menu planning. We plan our dinners two weeks in advance and get all the necessary ingredients for our meals. We choose meals in which some ingredients can be used again, and we always mix it up to include some meals with meat and others that are vegan or vegetarian.

What we haven’t been very good at, however, is planning our breakfasts. For the longest time I would have a grapefruit or some toasted homemade whole wheat bread with homemade peanut butter and raw honey, and Mr Science would make himself a breakfast sandwich using our homemade bread plus a free-range egg, nitrate-free bacon, and a processed cheese slice.

Although these aren’t necessarily unhealthy meals, they certainly don’t provide much variety in nutrients. Moreover, grapefruit doesn’t provide a whole lot of energy to start the day, bread isn’t the best thing to have on a super regular basis, and processed cheese slices really shouldn’t be a breakfast staple.

So, keeping all of that in mind, we decided to put a little more effort into planning our breakfasts along with our dinners. We are making much more of an effort to change the types of things we eat for breakfast every day or every few days so as to get a variety of different nutrients. And we have made some great discoveries in the types of breakfasts that we enjoy!

Here are six of our favourite healthy and delicious breakfasts:

1) Oatmeal. We use organic oats from a local company and cook them on the stove with some local raw honey and organic cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger (and we like to add some skim milk powder to the water).

2) Smoothies. Okay, this one is mostly me – I’ve always enjoyed my green smoothies! Since getting the U-RAAW! custom-made smoothie mix, I’ve been using that with milk, fruit, and my homemade powdered dark leafy greens. It is so delicious.

blueberry smoothie

Drinking a tasty spirulina / milk / banana / blueberry smoothie for breakfast!

3) Cereal. Mr Science and I had a bit of an obsession with unhealthy cereals for a while (*cough* Cap’n Crunch *cough*), but we have recently discovered a cereal that is even more delicious than Cap’n Crunch! I know; I was surprised too. Our new favourite is Nature’s Path Crunchy Vanilla cereal. It’s delicious and it has some wholesome goodness to it, too.

4) Free-range scrambled eggs, nitrate-free bacon, and homemade hashbrowns. We usually have this meal on Sunday mornings. It takes a long time for the potatoes to boil and then be turned into hashbrowns, but it is worth the wait! This is a great treat, and it is made healthier by using free-range eggs, nitrate-free bacon, and organic potatoes (as well as the fact that we only enjoy it once each week).

5) Fruit salad or blueberry spelt pancakes. Now that fruit is coming into season, we’ve started getting a variety of different fruits to make fruit salad (including apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, and oranges). In the winter time, a nice replacement would be pancakes made with spelt flour instead of white flour, plus plenty of frozen blueberries added to the mix. Yum!

6) Organic fruit or whole wheat bread with homemade peanut butter. Although homemade peanut butter (made just by processing peanuts until they’re smooth) tastes odd the first few times you eat it, over time you will like it so much better than conventional peanut butter (which has all kinds of junk in it). Spread your homemade peanut butter over banana or apple slices, or occasionally over some homemade whole wheat or multigrain bread (or a sprouted grain wrap).

What are some of your favourite healthy and delicious breakfast foods? What do you typically eat for breakfast? Share in the comments section below!

Product Review: U-RAAW!

I was delighted to be contacted recently by U-RAAW! about reviewing their products. U-RAAW! is a Canadian company offering customized organic, vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free, raw-food products. The custom products they offer include trail mix, cereal, energy bars, and smoothie mix. They also offer health foods: various dried fruits, nuts, and nutritional powders.

I had the opportunity to create my own customized product for each main category: one bag of cereal, one bag of trail mix, three energy bars, and one bag of smoothie mix.

U-RAAW product

All of my U-RAAW! goodies!

The U-RAAW! website is fairly new, so there were a couple of small kinks to work out when I was creating my custom products, but that is only to be expected with any new website. The website itself is very aesthetically-pleasing and straight-forward to use – aside from the small kinks (which might already be fixed), it’s a very user-friendly site and it’s a lot of fun to mix and match all of the different ingredients! There are a lot of ingredients to choose from so that you can really make the products your own. You also get to name your customized product and the name appears on the package when you receive it, which I think is a really cute and fun touch.

The customized products that I created included:

  • Picnic Trail Treat: organic hazelnuts, organic maple almonds, organic golden berries, organic pistachio nuts, organic apricots, and organic pecans.
  • Super Spirulina Smoothie Mix: organic brown rice protein, organic spirulina, organic vanilla powder, organic acai, organic wheat grass, and organic bee pollen.
  • Cacao Cherry Crunch Cereal: organic buckwheat hearts, organic mesa sunrise flakes, organic sesame seeds, organic tart cherries, organic cacao nibs.
  • Cashew Crisp Bars: cashew butter, whey protein, clover honey, brown rice crisps, vanilla extract, bee pollen, cacao, maca.

So, how was everything?

With all of the products, the ingredients were fresh and full of flavour – big thumbs up! You can really tell that U-RAAW! uses quality ingredients in their products.

The smoothie mix was fantastic. When I opened the package the first time, it just smelled so good! I made a smoothie using 1 cup of 1% milk, 1 banana, 1/3 cup frozen blueberries, and 1 tbsp of the smoothie mix. There were really lovely vanilla undertones in the smoothie mix. The ingredients complemented each other nicely, and the nutrition facts on the mix were awesome. There is so much wholesome and delicious goodness packed into a spoonful of that smoothie mix.

The trail mix could have used a few more apricots, and the maple almonds weren’t super maple-y, but that also could be that I didn’t get a chance to try it until about 10 days after they arrived (I went out of the province within hours of receiving the products). The ingredients in the cereal were really great individually, but it was the combination of them – which was all on me, since I created the combo! – that just didn’t work. Mr Science and I both tried it with milk and there were just too many flavours going on. But as a dried cereal, like a trail mix, it works pretty well. I think I got too excited about all of the different ingredients and forgot to stop and consider what they would be like in a bowl with milk.

raw cereal

I loved the energy bars. They had a lovely cashew butter taste with just the right amount of subtle sweetness and a little crunch from the rice crisps. I think next time I would add some chocolate chips to the bar too. The package was a little tricky to get into and it had to be opened with scissors – but the packaging of all the products uses really good-quality materials, and I would so much rather the packaging be durable than it ripping!

The mother dear tried a cashew crisp bar and she was NOT a fan, but that, I think, is simply indicative of the awesomeness of customized products: I had made it for my personal tastes and it suited my taste just fine! Being able to create custom products means that you can be very cognizant about what flavours and ingredients you enjoy the most.

And the final verdict is…

I would definitely recommend U-RAAW! The products are high-quality and delicious, and you can design all of the products to exactly your liking. I also love the thoughtful touches that are put in, such as the cute graphics on the packaging. The business provides a lot of different ingredient options, and you can even purchase things separately, such as just baking ingredients or just superfoods. It’s perfect for if you want to design your own health foods and incorporate tasty raw ingredients into your meals!

Visit uraaw.ca to check out all of the options available and to design your own raw food products.

Disclaimer: this was a paid product review but all opinions and reviews written here are entirely my own.

How to Prepare for Your First Acupuncture Session

A couple months ago, I wrote about my experiences with acupuncture. I’m still seeing my massage therapist / acupuncturist every 10 days or so, and it is really making a world of difference.

Since I’ve been getting acupuncture, I’ve had a lot of questions from people about what it’s like. If you are thinking about going for acupuncture, here are some things to know which will help to prepare you for your first session:

  • The needles don’t usually hurt.

Really! Most of them slide in and out without you feeling anything. Other times you can feel them but it’s not unpleasant. Acupuncture needles only “hurt” (generally a pinching sort of feeling) for specific points that are sensitive, which might only be one or two out of the couple dozen needles that your acupuncturist might put in you.

acupuncture model

Don’t worry – you probably won’t get too many (if any!) needles in your face. But even they don’t hurt!

  • It’s okay to ask a lot of questions.

Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are very different! It might be confusing to understand how acupuncture works if you don’t have any background in TCM. That’s okay! Your acupuncturist should be able to answer most of your questions in a way that you can understand.

It’s also a good idea to ask plenty of questions outside of the “how does acupuncture work” area. If you’re feeling a little nervous, ask your acupuncturist at the beginning of the appointment to walk you through what the session will look like. Inquire about how long the needles stay in for, how many needles they usually put in, what kind of symptoms you might experience after your session, etc. The more you can educate yourself, the more comfortable you will feel.

  • The more information you can provide your acupuncturist, the better.

Just like your acupuncturist should provide you with plenty of information about acupuncture, you should provide your acupuncturist with plenty of information about your health history and complaints. Even if you don’t think that things are connected, they probably are. For example, having cold feet, anxiety, an eating disorder, and abdominal pain can all be connected! Tell your acupuncturist about every little detail you can think of and they will be able to give you much more precise treatment.

  • Acupuncture sessions might vary in length, but expect to be at the acupuncture office for at least a good hour.

I really recommend that you try not to make any plans within about three hours from the beginning of your session. If you’re getting massage therapy with your acupuncture, like me, you could be at the office for close to two hours in total (taking into account arriving a few minutes early to your appointment and your acupuncturist running a little late).

Sometimes your acupuncturist might put some needles in for just a few minutes. Other times, the needles might be left in for up to 40 minutes. Take all of that into account! The last thing you want is to be lying there on the table with needles in you, staring at the clock and getting stressed out because you’re cutting things close with other plans that you had made.

  • You might have different emotional and physical reactions from your sessions, depending on your health issues and the acupuncture points used.

This is another reason why it’s a good idea not to make plans too close after your acupuncture session finishes. Most of the time, I feel amazing and energized after acupuncture sessions. But there have been a couple times when they have made me very tired, and one time when I felt pretty awful after the treatment. This is your body reacting to the treatment. It’s nothing to be alarmed about, but it’s good to be aware of so you can prepare accordingly. If you provide your acupuncturist with enough information about your healthy history and your current issues, they should be able to give you the heads up if they think the treatment will make you feel sleepy (or any other reaction) afterwards.

Got questions about acupuncture? Have your own experiences or tips to share? Comment below!

Five Steps to Becoming a Runner

If you’ve been following this blog since its inception six and a half years ago – or, let’s be honest, even if you’ve just been following it for the past six months – you’ll know that I have been a runner on and off countless times. Going back and forth between loving running and strongly disliking it (and everything in between) has at the very least given me the wonderful opportunity to understand some of the necessary components to help support the enjoyment and maintenance of running in my life.

These are the five steps that I’ve identified for how to become a runner that work for me - maybe they will be of use to you, too (or maybe you have your own process that you can share in the comments section below!):

1) Get into the right mental state.

As with many types of physical activity, running, I think, is more about your mental state than your physical ability. Most of us are much stronger and faster physically than we ever realize or tap into, so if we can get over our mental barriers, we can love running and keep it up that much more easily.

Deciding the day before that you will run the following morning, repeatedly giving yourself pep talks, and understanding why you want to run and what you love about it can all make a really big difference here.

2) Start slow.

Don’t overdo it or you will burn out! Depending on where you are at with your health, start by running around the block, running 1 km, or running 5 km. Don’t force yourself to go too fast or too far. Run for the enjoyment of it. Slowly build yourself up to go farther and faster over time, and your body and mind will thank you for it.

While you’re starting slow, play around to see what works best for you. Do you prefer to run in running shoes or Vibrams? With music or without? By yourself or in a group? Even figuring out things like the most comfortable clothing to wear and how to keep your hair from getting in your face (my personal biggest annoyance! I solve this problem by pulling my hair back in a ponytail and then wearing a hoorag over my head to prevent any flyaways from escaping) can be the difference between getting frustrated with running and enjoying it immensely.

3) Run frequently.

Three times each week with at least one rest day in between works best for me. If you let a few weeks go by without running (due to illness, travel, or anything else that might get in the way), get yourself back in a good mental state, perhaps go a little slower and at a shorter distance than you had been for the first couple days, and then keep on. And keep in mind that it’s better for your body if you go running shorter distances more frequently than one long run once a month.

4) Cross-train to keep things interesting and to reduce your chances of getting injured.

Yoga and swimming are my favourites. And both strength training and stretching can be extremely helpful when you are a runner! Try new things and utilize different muscles to prevent yourself from getting hurt or overusing particular muscles.

Along with cross-training is the idea of having goals in mind to work towards with your running. Mr Science and I like to increase our distance slowly every week or two, and that works for us. Other people, like the mother dear, like to run in half marathons as something to work toward (we’ll be cheering her on from the sidelines this Sunday!). Figure out what best inspires you to keep at it.

5) Get out there and RUN!

(I feel like you would appreciate the simplicity of this last step, Carla ;)). When it comes down to it, getting out there and running is really the big thing for becoming a runner. You don’t need a ton of fancy equipment and complicated techniques – your body will instinctively know how to do it.

What steps would you recommend? What are your biggest obstacles when it comes to running? What inspires you to keep running? Share in the comments section below!

Product Review: Vionic Orthaheel Sandals

Since I have one leg shorter than the other by nearly an inch, I am supposed to be careful about my shoe choices. But as it happens, I adore heels… and if I’m honest, I haven’t asked a shoemaker to add a build-up into my shoes in years. Oops.

So I was eager to try out Vionic Orthaheel sandals when I was offered the chance. They are sandals that have been designed to protect foot health, and they are recommended by the American Podiatric Medical Association.

fashionable sandal

Vionic offers all kinds of different types of sandals, including this pretty one!

There are a number of different types of sandals for both men and women using the Orthaheel technology listed on the Vionic website. The sandals that I received for a product review happen to be flip flops.

Normally, I’m not a flip flop wearer. I haven’t owned a pair of flip flops in years (I’m more of a ballet flat kind of girl). It was especially interesting, then, for me to test these ones out!

The first thing I noticed were that these flip flops are pretty darn cute. They are low profile, a nice shade of brown, and have a little bit of shine to them. The second thing I noticed was the dramatic arch in the sandal. And when I slipped the sandal on, I could feel that my feet were moved into a completely different position than they normally would be in sandals.

healthy sandals

Taking my new sandals out for a test-drive!

I tried bicycling in these sandals and I’ve also walked in them a few times. They’re tricky to get used to. The first time I wore them, they weren’t comfortable at all (I assume because of the enhanced contouring), but my feet like them much more now. And they are certainly summertime-appropriate!

Right now, Vionic is running a #SoleStory social media campaign to promote proper footwear. Traditional flip flops can really wreak havoc on your foot health, so they are looking to hear stories about how good-for-you footwear has had an impact on your life! You can learn more about their contest by clicking here.

Have you tried Vionic shoes? Are you a flip flop fanatic? What kinds of shoes do you normally wear? Share in the comments section below!

The Art of the Productive Break

Breaks are super important. It’s good to get away from your work and rest and relax – but sometimes it’s nice to be productive while you’re stepping away from the computer!

Since starting to work from home as a freelancer, I’ve noticed that breaks can be really useful for helping me to think over new ideas and get creative. This is especially important for projects that focus primarily on content creation! I don’t need nearly as many breaks when I’m doing a straight-forward editing or proofreading project, but when it comes to creating content, writing articles, and putting together strategies, I have found that stepping away from the computer can be a wonderful opportunity to get new inspiration and ideas. And all while giving me a sense as though I have had a “break” from working! I like it. So with that in mind, here are some ways that you can take breaks and be productive at the same time:

great books

Obviously, books books books are an excellent way to take a break productively ;)

Exercise

This is such a good one for re-energizing your body and your mind. Slower, lighter forms of exercise, like going out for a walk, are excellent for getting the creative juices flowing. More intense forms of exercise, like a gym class, are better for taking your mind off of your project so that you can return to it with fresh eyes.

Cleaning

I love this one. There is always something that needs cleaning in the house! By tidying and cleaning up your space, you are creating a more clean, peaceful, and energizing space for yourself. Not only can you think of your work while you are cleaning (since, let’s face it, cleaning can be a pretty mindless and tedious task), but you will also be able to work with a more clear head once your space is in order.

Meditation

If you can succeed in meditating properly and be at peace in your mind, you will be able to return to your work with a more open mind so that new ideas will flow much more freely. Although meditation makes me feel a little dozy, following it up with lying on my acupressure mat really re-energizes me so that my mind is clear and also eager to get working again (can you tell that I love this combo?).

Reading books

This is a great one for if you are doing creative writing, especially. But really, if you are doing any kind of writing, reading a book that uses the same style that you are writing in can be a fantastic inspiration and motivation to get back to your work. Reading can be a great stimulant for the mind.

Conversation

If you work alone, it’s easy to get lonely or hungry for conversation with another human being without even realizing it! Taking some time away from your desk to have a conversation with someone – on topics including your work or on entirely different subjects – can do wonders for helping you to think of things in new perspectives and in ways that you hadn’t considered before.

Running Errands

I have a confession: I hate running errands. I will procrastinate and put off running errands until I absolutely have to. I don’t know what it is about errands, but they are definitely not my “thing.”

However, when I need to take a break from working but am struggling with a feeling of guilt for not working 24 / 7 (I’m getting much better at not feeling the guilt!), running errands can really help. It generally gets you outside (we can always use some more fresh air), and it also takes one more thing off of your plate. Crossing an errand off of your to-do list can make you feel much better – and that much more ready to get back to work after you have completed your errand.

Do you like to take productive breaks? What do you do on your breaks? How do you re-energize yourself to get working again? Share in the comments section below!

Meditation 101

In my last acupuncture and massage therapy session*, my acupuncturist gave my some homework: to meditate every day, at least once each day. It’s a tall order.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never been good at meditation. I apparently seriously lack in mental discipline, because I find it incredibly difficult to turn my mind off. I’ve tried meditation in the past, and it’s always felt like a chore. Something that I had to get over with every day. And obviously that defeats the whole purpose of meditation!

When my acupuncturist told me to meditate, I began bombarding her with questions. What time of day should I meditate? How frequently should I meditate? How long should I meditate for? I wanted specific instructions detailing exactly what I should do, so that I could reach the end goal of mental clarity. The process – the journey – seemed like a lot of work. But meditation isn’t about the end goal; it’s all about the process.

My acupuncturist encouraged me to play around with meditation and to find a time of day that felt good to me, and she also said that it’s best to meditate no less than once a day, but as for that last question – the length of a meditation session – she didn’t give me the concrete response I was looking for (“oh, 10 minutes each day will be perfect”). Instead she gave me the best advice I have ever received when it comes to meditation. To paraphrase:

Meditate for as long as it feels good for you. Meditate until you have reached mental clarity and when you feel calm and satisfied. Don’t time yourself.

Cambodia holiday

Cambodia.

This was a huge revelation for me. Don’t look at the clock while meditating? What a concept! And so I have been doing as she said. Here are some of the things that I have learned from my first few days of meditating:

  • Find a comfortable position. My first time I attempted to meditate after the conversation with my acupuncturist, I started out cross-legged, then lay down with my knees bent, then went into supta baddha konasana pose, and then settled in Savasana. Changing your position really disrupts your meditation practice! Better to get into a good position right away.
  • The environment around you matters. If your space around you isn’t tidy, or if it’s not one that you feel at peace in, then you will probably have a challenging time to properly meditate. Clean up your area and choose a place that you feel at home before meditating. (My spot? In our at-home library, seated on a cushion on the floor.)
  • Your body can be really loud. The silence of meditation is deafening! I noticed that my heart beat was loud, my breathing was loud, my mind was exceptionally loud, and even things like my stomach were making noises. There is so much to hear when you stop and listen.
  • It might take a few tries before you succeed in meditating. My big problem was that every time I emptied my mind, it would only last for a second or two before I’d get excited and think, “Hurray, I did it! I emptied my mind! I’m not thinking about – oh. Crap.” That’s okay! Try again later in the day, or the following day.

The other problem that may occur when you are meditating is that you’ll imagine Alec Baldwin’s character in 30 Rock saying “meditate perfectly!” and you’ll want to giggle. Giggling, in my experience, really takes away from your meditative state. But the more you practice (at meditating, not giggling, obviously), the better you will get!

  • If you are someone who really like tracking things and being in control (ooh, me! Pick me!), make a note of the time before getting started. This helped me because although I wasn’t forcing myself to meditate for x number of minutes, I could still look at the clock by the time that my meditation session (or, ahem, my attempted-meditation session) was complete and be aware of how long I was doing it for. I’ve found that I usually meditate (or attempt to meditate) for five to 10 minutes before I get up.
  • Using an acupressure mat after meditating can make you feel AMAZING. I started using my Heavenly Acupressure Mat the second time I tried meditation – just lying down on it after my meditation session – and I’ve found that the combo of meditating first, followed by lying down on an acupressure mat immediately afterwards, gives me that same “high” that I talked about in my first acupuncture blog post. The combination of meditation and the acupressure mat are now essentials to my day!

And that’s it! My tips for getting started with meditation. Have I missed anything? What would you add here? Have you meditated before? Why or why not? Share in the comments section below!

*For those if you in and around Winnipeg and looking for a fantastic acupuncturist / massage therapist, check out Ankyo Massage Therapy! They are wonderful.

Easy, Healthy Changes to Make at Home

When we’re talking about living healthy in the real world, a big part of it is making little changes. Baby steps. Little pieces that make a big difference in the long-term. With that in mind, here are four easy switches to make this week that will make a big impact on your health:

1) Swap white flour for spelt flour.

Let’s be honest: whole wheat flour is great, but it’s a little too dense to replace white flour in every recipe – particularly in baking! Luckily there is spelt flour. Spelt flour contains many more nutrients than regular white flour, but it can be used instead of white flour in just about every recipe you can think of without turning your baking into rocks. I haven’t bought white flour in years because I always use spelt flour instead, for recipes of all kind (and I love my cookies and cupcakes!).

2) Use pink Himalayan sea salt instead of table salt.

There really isn’t anything good about table salt. We all know that. But you really don’t ever need to use table salt. Use pink Himalayan sea salt instead! It is ancient and awesome. Plus it’s a pretty pink colour. And it is loaded with micro-nutrients! I prefer Himalayan sea salt to regular sea salt because, well, our current seas are overly contaminated, and so that salt probably isn’t ideal. Ancient seas are the way to go :)

3) Choose organic over conventional.

You might notice a difference with this change, unlike the flour or salt replacements. But the difference that you will notice is that organic generally has more flavour. It’s true! This test is easiest when it comes to strawberries. Conventional strawberries tend to be enormous, and rather bland, in comparison to organic strawberries. Moreover, choosing organic when you can means that you will be ingesting fewer pesticides and fewer GMOs overall, which is always a good thing.

4) Let your water air out on the counter.

The above three health swaps have the potential to be a little pricey (although your health is worth it!) – but this health swap won’t make a difference in your pocketbook at all. Here’s the thing: tap water has to be heavily filtered to get to our kitchens, and often other things get added to it during the process to cleanse and make it fit for human consumption. But those other things added aren’t particularly desirable. By letting your water sit out on the counter, uncovered, for even just a few hours, some of those things will evaporate, leaving you with healthier (and definitely better-tasting!) water.

What simple health changes would you add to this list? Share in the comments section below!