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Writing in the White Space – A Conversation with Alexa Gilker

In CREATE

Whitespace Writers with Alexa Gilker - The Wholesome Handbook
Alexa Gilker is the vivacious, down-to-earth wordsmith behind Whitespace Writers, a series of workshops that aim to get to the heart of why we write. She talks with her hands, has great taste in lipstick, and prefers good, solid Germanic words over those amorphous Latin ones. I’ve been taking her classes for several weeks, and I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference they’ve made in my confidence and artistic honesty. I sat down with Alexa recently to chat about feminism, diversity, truth, and of course, her secrets to good writing.

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Fire Vibes & A Charcoal Mask

In CREATE, LIFESTYLE

Fire Vibes & A Charcoal Mask - The Wholesome Handbook

A few years ago, there was a fire in Fish Creek near my in-laws’ house – I’ll never forget the blackened hill, the dried up riverbed, the dangerous smell of new ash and charcoal. That fire has haunted me. I imagine the terror of people gazing out of their kitchens to be met with a vista of flame. I imagine the urgency of birds and beetles, taking flight and rising with the heat. I imagine fish wriggling, panicked, in the warm water of the river.

After it was all over, we walked to the area to survey the damage, and something primal overtook me. I wanted to roll in the burnt grass and cover myself with black. I wanted to fill my lungs with smoke. I wanted to burn.

A land touched by fire is a land touched by death and reborn. The hill consumed by that brush fire is now lush and beautiful. The grass is taller, and the trees are heavier in defiance. The human soul is like that, too. We burst into flame, and even if we emerge bald and naked, stripped of everything, we manage to rise again. We are nurtured by destruction. We are given new life.
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Equinox Black Salt Bath & Lessons of the Crone

In CREATE, LIFESTYLE

Equinox Black Salt Bath - The Wholesome Handbook

Our tilting earth swings on its ecliptic tether, the night claws back dominion from the day, and the crone ascends, as she has for millennia. It’s the autumnal equinox, that liminal, time-worn passage between light and dark, life and death, things that are known and mysteries yet to be uncovered. The crone’s hour.

That mythical crone.The crone is every midwife, wise woman, and witch in history. Feared and misunderstood, she is the veil between worlds. She has the kind of wisdom and magic that can only come from a long and soulful existence, her story written in wrinkles, her root-like hands gnarled with her lifetime’s work. She emerged in spring as the fragrant, sweet maiden, and was ripe with the erotic fecundity of summer and motherhood. Now, in her old age, she’s the enlightened one. Her knowledge is untaught and unsanctioned, sprung wholly from the depths of her experience, and this, of course, makes her dangerous. She instinctively knows the truth of all things. She threatens the status quo. She makes people uncomfortable.
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Aloe Vera Moon Juice

In CREATE, EAT

Aloe Vera Moon Juice - The Wholesome Handbook

It has been a mercurial summer. The rains seem forever locked in a cosmic battle with the sun, wrestling for dominance, throwing the prairie skies into turmoil as they cycle endlessly from searing, blue-hued heat to murderous black rainclouds and back again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient Titans themselves ripped open the surface of the earth to rise again. But even amongst the mayhem of the heavens, there is calm to be found. The moon is still wears her cool white face, and silent, glacial lakes still shine turquoise with limestone. The earth still offers up refuge and healing, medicine both spiritual and physical, very often hidden in plant life.

After a rather bacchanalian weekend, I’ve emerged with a wicked sunburn and a body in dire need of some gentle recalibrating. My husband’s grandparents recently celebrated their 60th anniversary, and Reists from all corners of the nation descended upon the mountains for three days to mark the occasion. Nazarene hymns were sung in four-part harmonies, caramel cakes were devoured, several exploratory miles were walked, and Andrew was somehow convinced to carry on the family legacy of playing the musical saw.

We snuck off for a cocktail party at our dear friend Brittany’s place, and I ended up moon-gazing and soul-baring with a new girlfriend until the wee hours of the morning, fueled by a king’s portion of creme de violette and gin. An actor friend lulled us to sleep with a dramatic reading of the first act of Hamlet, in full Scottish brogue. Four hours of fitful sleep later, we were on the road again, weaving through the purplish, sunrise-kissed Rockies and back to the family.

Between the punishing weather and the abundance of activity, I’m very much in the market for some cooling down, both literally and metaphorically. The aloe vera plant is one of earth’s most glorious remedial offerings, the perfect champion for the task.

Besides the well-known properties of aloe as a powerful cooling salve for the skin, it is also rich in antioxidants, helpful in balancing blood sugar, and intensely nutritious, boasting vitamins A, C, E, and B’s 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12. A little aloe juice in some ice water is the perfect detoxifying drink after a weekend of heavy reunion food, very little sleep, and a little more sun and gin than my body would thank me for. It’s as soothing and rejuvenating as the glow of the moon.

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Homemade Lilac & Blueberry Ink

In CREATE

The Wholesome Handbook - Lilac and Blueberry Ink

The richness of spring always surprises me. Every year, I manage to forget the incredible, lush world that sleeps under the snow. The gorgeous colours, the intoxicating scent of soil and rain and grass, the warm breeze. How freeing it is to walk bare-legged into the morning chill. How magical it is to catch a glimpse of white-spotted fawn through the budding trees, or come across a field pebbled with young rabbits, wide-eyed and wild. And the lilacs… oh, the lilacs.

Although their lives are fleeting, the presence of lilacs fills the world with giddy delight. For the two or three weeks of lilac season, we fill our homes (and Instagram feeds) with cuttings, brew cordials and tonics, and press blooms in between the pages of books. In folk wisdom, lilacs are messengers of perseverance, tenacity, and new life, and I like to think that we mortals take this to heart, perhaps subconsciously, when they appear. There’s just something about those impossibly fragrant, delicate flowers that captures the imagination and fortifies the soul.

This spring has been one of deep renewal for me. I have never felt more sure of myself and my purpose. I’ve never been more brave, or more heroically irresponsible. I’ve also never worked so hard. Dreams demand blood, sweat, and tears before they can become flesh, and I gladly make these offerings at the altar of my muse. I have a feeling that this is a time in my life that I’ll want to remember. I want to preserve this exquisite exhaustion, this trembling feeling of anticipation, so very like the last weeks of spring before the world erupts into summer. And because I write, a single jar of ink, soon put down onto paper, seemed the natural choice.

This ink is my way of paying tribute. To spring, to lilacs, and to possibility.

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DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters

In CREATE, EAT

DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters - The Wholesome Handbook

I’ve never quite managed to keep a garden alive. I have all the best intentions, a potent bloodline of earth-working women to draw knowledge from, and a deep and abiding love for all things green – but most of my gardening experiments end in sad, wilted shoots that I pull up for the neighbourhood jackrabbits.

I don’t know why the green thumb gene skipped me. My mother has a gorgeous carpet of thyme in her garden that I jealously run my fingers through every chance I get, and buxom white peonies every June. My aunt is an absurdly talented florist. When I was young, my grandmother’s little house boasted a wilderness of flowers in the front, and a tangled, fairy-tale mass of pumpkin vines in the back. By all accounts, I should be an ancestral earth sage, Radagast-like, with herbs tucked behind my ear and dirt on my knees.

Alas. I just don’t have the knack. But I dearly hope to challenge that this year – I’ve meticulously sorted through seed packets of five-colour beets and heirloom kohlrabi to find creatures that might actually cooperate with me (torpedo onions and black cherry tomatoes). I’ve consulted the Farmer’s Almanac, the moon phases, the historical weather patterns, and several lovely women in my life who have beautiful gardens. Mark my words – I’ll be eating those onions come August.

I’m starting my seedlings in last week’s leftover eggshells. I love this no-waste alternative to plastic seedling trays, and once the seedling has outgrown its nursery, it’s easy to crack the egg a little and plant it right into the ground. The eggshell will decompose and provide a lovely source of calcium for your plant-babies.

DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters - The Wholesome Handbook

 

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Equinox Bath Tea & The Forgotten Element of Self-Care

In CREATE, LIFESTYLE

 

Equinox Bath Tea- The Wholesome Handbook

Persephone is padding barefoot up the cold hill from Hades, flowers and herbs woven into her wheat-coloured hair. The earth quickens under her feet, seeds crack open, greenery thrusts tenacious fingers through the topsoil. It is the vernal equinox, and Persephone has emerged, blushing and breathless, from her dark kingdom below.

The Queen of the Underworld might, at first, seem like an unlikely candidate to breathe new life into the earth. But her deep-seated darkness is precisely why she’s the perfect woman for the job. Most life cannot grow with only sunlight to feed it. Life also needs dark, damp, rich soil to thrive.

We are no different from nature. We need both darkness and light to grow. Persephone is the personification of this fertile balance, and with her reappearance from Hades we can honour that which is unsavory, uncomfortable, and challenging, but ultimately healthy and fruitful.

Women, for too long, have been denied darkness. We’ve been told to file down our teeth, that our anger, frustration, despair, and grief are unsightly and displeasing. Unfeminine. Inappropriate. Indulgent. Our spiritual lives are bombarded with messages of pure love and cleansing light, and our darkness is treated as a disease to cure or a dragon to vanquish.

But by stifling the wild creature of our darkness, we also extinguish the magic of our light. Do not fear your night sky. It has lessons for you, hard truths, good medicine.

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DIY Bookbinding – Yotsume Toji Dream Journal

In CREATE

 

Yotsume Toji Bookbinding - The Wholesome Handbook

Yotsume Toji Bookbinding - The Wholesome Handbook

Purpose.

We are so burdened by that little word. We spend our lifetimes yearning to be defined by our purpose. We search for it like trickling mountain creeks search for the ocean, pulled ever forward by that celestial, gravitational force. We dream of coming home, yawning wide into the sea of our elusive raison d’etre, and pouring our weary souls into inspiration, fulfillment, and happiness.

If we could just find our purpose, all of the messy, imperfect elements of our lives would fall into place. We wouldn’t feel that desperate longing to be more. We would walk through the world with all the grace and ease that we’ve been told we are owed. If only we find our purpose, we will be free. If only. If only.

So our hearts break. We wait and we wait, for purpose to come find us, for it to pluck us out of mediocrity and into the spectacular life we have been expecting. We wait for inspiration instead of seeking it, we jealously guard our hearts and minds, we become rigid in our ideas of what our purpose looks like, and by doing so, we forget to see what’s already in front of us.

Listen up, you gorgeous soul. You are already living your purpose, right here, right now. You have a completely unique set of experiences and wisdoms to share. You have gifts, talents, and struggles to lay bare at the feet of your altar. Bloom. Your purpose might not look like what you expected, but while you were waiting at the window like a lovelorn cat for your purpose to come knocking, it slipped in the back door.

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DIY Gold-Dipped Ring Cones

In CREATE

DIY Ring Cones - The Wholesome Handbook

Saturday’s full Wolf Moon has got me reeling, feeling chaotic and inspired and stressed right out. All this week I’ve been squeezing blood from stones and peering over cliff edges into the vast abyss of uncertainty. I impulsively sheared nine inches (and thus five years) of hair off. It’s been a weird couple of days.

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little out of control, it helps to make something simple and pretty, to return to that blessed place of creativity and concentration. It’s my home. It’s where I find peace. And I was in serious need of some jewelry storage options, so here we are.

These ring cones turned out even better than I had hoped – I especially love the marbled ones! They would make lovely and unique gifts for the girl who has everything, and they take less than an hour from start to finish.

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Love Potion No. 1 – DIY Rosewater

In CREATE

DIY Rosewater - The Wholesome Handbook

Roses have enchanted humanity for centuries. They’re voluptuous, sweet, and intoxicating, with petals as fragrant and soft as the curve of a lover’s wrist. They’re a metaphor for life itself – the buds unfurling into audacious and flamboyant beauty, the thorns eager to draw blood at the first unassuming touch.

Cleopatra loved roses. It is said that her vast estates were carpeted with petals, and that servants and royalty alike walked barefoot upon them, anklets chiming. When Aphrodite emerged from the ocean, dripping and glorious, the seafoam that slid down her divine breasts bloomed into roses of the purest white. Clay tablets from the ancient temples of Ur detail a delivery of 30,000 jars of rosewater to the Sultan of Baghdad’s harem. Roses are tokens of love and beauty, the most iconic of les fleurs, the goddesses of greenery. They’re Love Potion No. 1.

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