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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Writing in the White Space – A Conversation with Alexa Gilker


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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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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Discovering Your Ghosts


Discovering Your Ghosts - The Wholesome Handbook

Before Hallowe’en was Hallowe’en, it was All Hallow’s Eve. The day of the dead.

On this night, the veil between worlds is so gauzy and tattered that you can almost see through it. This is the night that spirits slip between the cosmic warp and weft and return to the world of the living. This is the night for ancestors and ancients. This is the night for ghosts.

They spill into the streets, laughing. They’re giddy with the stink of life, the flush of remembrance, the heavy warmth of being. They remember their hands, how they gripped the hipbones of lovers and soothed the foreheads of fevered children. Their pale tongues cold against their teeth, they remember butter and peaches and mama’s famous borscht. With featherlight feet, they dance ceili and bhangra over the treetops. They shiver with pleasure to once again gaze up at the moon.

What a fabulous night.

For years, my ghosts have followed me. Every October, I am inexplicably drawn back into the thrill of discovering them. There is no greater yearning of my heart than to unveil the lives of the people that came before me, and to attempt to retell their stories. To find bits of myself in these people, and to find bits of them still living in me.
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Fire Vibes & A Charcoal Mask


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


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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An Autumn Mood


The Wholesome Handbook - That Autumn Mood

That familiar, ghostly whisper of cold in the air. The first glint of amber in a sea of exhausted green. A million little deaths perfuming the streets with a vegetal, earthy tang. I don’t stand a chance against autumn. Every year it creeps in like some unforgotten ex-lover, beautiful and moody and fleeting, and I am bewitched.

I feel most like myself when the world is warm and golden, when I’m not overwhelmed by summer’s lusty chaos or driven into hibernation by the dark, wolfish cold of winter. Autumn feels poetic and gentle, full of wisdom and mystery. In the throes of its death, the world feels so exquisitely alive.

When the seasons shift, it’s wise that we do so as well. Living seasonally is good for you. It’s about mirroring the earth and her cycles, honouring the history of our more pastoral forefathers, remembering that you’re a part of this epic, cosmic dance. It’s just good earthling etiquette to embrace the spirit of the season. Here’s how I’m settling into my favourite time of year.

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Aloe Vera Moon Juice


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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Travelogue – Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta


The Wholesome Handbook - Dinosaur Provincial Park

The Alberta prairies, to the uninitiated, might seem like a land ruled by oil barons and cattle ranchers. Everything east of our legendary mountains might be a land of country conservatism and small-town simplicity, utterly devoid of anything enigmatic.

But my Alberta is intensely mystical. It is powerful, strange, brutal, and beautiful. The wind-battered gray barns, the howling coyotes, the harvest moon hung low in the sky… there’s an energy here that’s unexplainable. There are ancient voices carried on the prairie winds, ghosts in the grasses, and bones in the coulees. 75 million year old bones, actually, in one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.

We recently spent a few days in Dinosaur Provincial Park, an astonishing valley cut deep into the grasslands and stretching endlessly to the horizon. I’ve never seen anything like it. A landscape that exists outside of time, esoteric and arcane.

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Homemade Lilac & Blueberry Ink


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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