The Poetry & Power of Rituals

The Wholesome Handbook

Stalking the wildlife…

If there’s one big takeaway from my academic years, it’s that ritual is a powerful thing.

Of course, we see the word ‘ritual’ and we think of a clutch of grubby Iron Age Danes heaving some poor hanged man into the peat bog to sate the bloodlust of the gods. We think of Stonehenge, of Olmec knives in chalcedony, of the Greeks with Hestia’s eternal flame. But our modern lives are still steeped in ritual.

We have rituals marking our major life events. We declare our romantic partnerships with white dresses, a sacred first kiss, a feast. What are stagette parties but modern bacchanals? A baby is born, and we all flock to see it and ceremoniously bestow knitted blankets and stuffed pink rabbits, one by one. A loved one dies, and our mourning is marked with gatherings, speeches, recitations from holy books. We retire from our jobs and are sent off with offerings of gold and cake.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream // Embracing the Solstice


Titania Sleeping in the Moonlight, Protected by her Fairies – John Simmons

The earth languishing in axial tilt, monuments glowing, heat and light and the bald face of the sun.

Summer, in all her loose and fragrant glory, arrives at the party.

These days, we eat strawberries in January and work long past dark, but there was a time when we didn’t think of ourselves as separate from nature, or above the influence of the seasons. Our internal lives are supposed to be consistent – we’re convinced we have to be the same person, with the same needs, throughout the cycle of the year. We tell ourselves we’re above the animals, as if indoor plumbing and a few trips to the moon could erase our base nature, the creature part of us that shifts with the seasons.

Midsummer’s eve remind us otherwise.

It’s almost impossible not to feel that symbolic weight, the mystical gravity of this long, long day. Our ancestors felt it, built pyramids and stone circles around it, wrote endless verses about it, threw bacchanals on it. The frenzy of solstice is undeniable, thick with life and magic.

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Travelogue // Abbotsford, British Columbia


Travelogue - Abbotsford - The Wholesome Handbook

Driving from Alberta to B.C. for a weekend visit with Andrew’s grandparents was like leaping forward in time. As we weaved around and over the Rockies on Highway 1 and the Coquihalla, the world shifted from a humble, budding brown to a raucous, lush eruption of green.

B.C. is a land of plenty. It’s crowded with dense hills and heavy clouds, and you can smell the ocean salt in the air. After 10 car-bound hours of podcasts, coffee, and rain, the eldest Reists welcomed us with their legendary Strawberry Birthday Cake, studded with saran-wrapped loonies, and we chatted long into the night.

Our first morning, we breakfasted on homemade raisin bread and blackberry preserves picked from the cemetery bushes across the street – does anyone feed us better than our grandparents? Afterwards, I managed to drag the boys out to the gloriously muddy Bloom Tulip Festival, and had to fight every one of my instincts to just lay down in the muck and roll around like a happy piglet. Spring makes me a little wild, but then again, I suppose it does that to all of us – Beltane has its reputation for a reason, after all.

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A Spring Mood


The Wholesome Handbook - A Spring Mood

I awoke this morning to rain.

Before coffee, before the sanctuary of the shower, even before the ghosts of last night’s dreams had slipped out of my mind, I had to feel it. I ran outside to the gray dawn in my robe and bare feet, and tilted my face up towards the sky, my husband laughing at me from the kitchen. God, it felt so good. I can’t even begin to tell you.

Rain. Not half-frozen sleet, not the tentative drizzling the sky’s been experimenting with lately – but real, relentless rain.

Later, wrapped in a shawl at the window, bitter coffee steaming up from the mug warming my hands, the rain turned to snow again. Spring is messy like that, especially in this place, this unpredictable land between the mountains and the prairies. But the white on the ground can’t erase the fact that for a moment, I had rain. Spring is here, and life is changing again.
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Travelogue // Banff, Alberta


Travelogue - Banff, Alberta - The Wholesome Handbook

Banff is a tourist town. There’s no way around it. The streets are sardined with over-bundled crowds toting cameras and rented skis, several different languages echo haphazardly off the pavement, and most of the shops will cheerfully command 10 bucks for a fridge magnet. Still, though, I can’t really be bitter about it. Every time we round that familiar curve on the Trans-Canada and the road opens up into the first blue valley of the Rockies, I think to myself – oh, of course. Of course people flock from all corners of the planet to see this place. Of course.

I never tire of the mountains. When I was younger, I’d imagine the white-capped ridges were the spines of great sleeping dragons, or visualize the thousands of wolves and bears and moose hidden in their dense, forested skirts. As I got older, mountains taught me of my own smallness. They taught me reverence. To this day, every time I visit them, I feel like I’m coming home. The dramatic slope of Mount Rundle, the rippled bulk of Cascade Mountain, the almost comical peaks of the Three Sisters – these are the faces of old friends. Heading to the mountains felt like a good way to start 2017.

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What I Read // 2016


What I Read in 2016 - The Wholesome Handbook

When I think back to my girlhood, I think of books. I think of words illuminated by the thin beam of yellow hallway light under the door, long after I was supposed to have been asleep. I think of laying under the shade of the giant poplar tree in my front yard, my arms pleasantly sore from hoisting the newest Harry Potter over my head for hours. I think of the looming, mysterious slopes of the glass-walled pyramid library near the shopping mall, and how my heart would flutter in my ribcage when I entered those doors. I think of the agonizing punishment I would receive for misbehaving – my books locked away until bedtime, and nothing to do but (o, horrors,) interact with the other neighborhood children.

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The WH Guide to 2017


The WH Guide to 2017

After years of maintaining thirteen small, tidy heart-shaped leaves, the old philodendron in the corner of my apartment has exploded into life. Her stalks divide and she unfurls a profusion of waxy new leaves every week, reaching her long arms into the room. She’s outgrowing her pot. She’s restless, I think, and so am I.

These days, I can feel a rumbling under my surface, like great tectonic plates crushing into one another at the beginning of the world, rearranging my lithosphere into something unrecognizable. But it feels good, this cracking and crumbling, this molten rock bubbling to the surface. To be honest, sometimes I just get so tired of softness.

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The WH Gift Guide // 2016


The Wholesome Handbook - 2016 Gift Guide

This year’s gift list is for the gal in your life with poetry in her soul. You know the one. The dreamer. The one with her head in the clouds and her feet (which are usually bare) only skimming the ground. The one with stars in her eyes. She’s always off in her own world, probably riding a celestial unicorn or something, but sometimes she touches back down to earth just long enough to make it onto your Christmas list.

This collection was curated to inspire her, spark her imagination, and to make her feel as pretty as Cassiopeia herself. There’s a bit of sparkle, some artisan charm, and I can’t believe it, but I’m disclosing my favourite under-the-radar antique place. Continue reading

A Winter Mood


The Wholesome Handbook - A Winter Mood

Winter has a soul. Every northerner knows this. It blows in on a whim, somehow always unexpected, and blankets the world in white. The rivers groan under ice, and the northern lights ripple over midnight-silent cities. Hoar frost grows crystalline on every naked branch and makes the world into a dreamscape. The air turns hungry, and nips at fingers like a stray dog.

Winter is snowshoeing in an evergreen forest, grand haunted hotels, steaming hot springs. It’s blue ice and sidewalk salt. It’s a cheeky glug of Baileys in my morning coffee. It’s my mother’s meticulously styled tree, and the dogs propped up in their own seats at the table on Christmas morning. It’s my husband proposing to me in a mountain cave as snowflakes melt on my cheeks. When you spend five months of the year in winter, it starts to become a part of you.

I love autumn, it’s true. But winter is in my bones. Winter is home.
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On Solitude


On Solitude - The Wholesome Handbook

Last year, out of vain curiosity, I visited the patchouli-scented office of a past life reader. He consulted my astrological charts, held my small, cold hand in his large, warm one for a moment, and hummed dramatically. His kind, brown eyes swept over me once, then twice, and he leaned back in his chair, pursing his lips in amusement.

“You’re quite old, you know”. I was intrigued. How could I not be?

He went on to tell me about my past lives in great detail, surprising me with how well he could pinpoint things about my current one. According to him, there’s a reason the desert fills me with anxiety, and a reason my belly leaps with bittersweet joy in the presence of horses. And a reason why, even though I’m surrounded by wonderful people, I love nothing better than to be alone.

You see, according to my visionary friend, I am, at heart, an ascetic. I’ve spent lifetimes wandering alone in the forest with calloused feet, or in silent prayer on mountaintops. I’ve been an ale-brewing monk, an exiled wisewoman accused of witchcraft, a political refugee on the run, an obsessed scholar on the brink of a breakthrough. All of these lives have made me independent and solitary, most comfortable in my own company.

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