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Cleansing your new home with a sage smudging ritual

A common Cherokee proverb is “Listen with your heart, learn from your experiences, and always be open to new ones”.

Moving into a new house often feels like the beginning of a new chapter. This can be incredibly exciting, but also incredibly scary. Building a house full of love and comfort is no easy task and rituals often help to make me feel more at home. Each time I move, I have a smudging ritual to cleanse my home and begin anew.

Smudging is an indigenous tradition also known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing. It has been a tradition for thousands of years in many clans across North America, and I was fortunate to be taught about the ritual from a Cree friend in Western Canada when I was a child.

Smudging has become a popular tradition among spiritualists as well. At the risk of it sounding like cultural appropriation, and with permission of my aboriginal friend, I have also used it for many years. The tradition differs depending on the region you live in. For example, in Western Canada, people traditionally use desert sage, sweet grass, pinion and tobacco. In the East, it is more common to use cedar, juniper, pine needles, cypress, sage, tobacco and sweet grass. Using an Abalone Shell, a traditional bowl in First Nations culture, to hold the sage while it burns is recommended because it signifies water in the ritual.

For my new home, I decided to bring desert sage from a small native arts & crafts shop near Calgary, my birthplace. Sage often comes in bundles, but can be burnt as loose leaf as well. I prefer the bundle because there is less chance of the embers spreading in your home. Find a feather for the ritual and then you are set to begin the smudging. By lighting the sage in a bowl, it releases smoke that is said to soak up all of the negative energy and bad thoughts, cleansing your space.

Once the sage is burning (embers only, no open flames needed), take the feather and cleanse yourself by moving the feather from your feet up to your head. Try to think of all the negative thoughts being dispelled in the smoke to rid yourself of negativity. If the sage lights on fire, blow out the flames and leave the embers burning. The smell of sage is earthy and has an incense-like scent. It is not for everyone, but I personally love it because it reminds me of where I’m from.

There are a variety of smudging prayers that you can say or you can complete the ritual in silence while meditating over the negative thoughts leaving your body and home. I prefer to complete this part of the ritual in silence. Be sure to cleanse anyone else taking part in the ritual. Next, I begin cleansing the home of any negative energy. Begin in the eastern corner, which represents air and the fresh breath of the rising sun each day. Move slowly to the south that symbolizes earth, and the creative inner child within. The west represents sun set and the deep introspection of darkness and water. Finally, end the cleansing ritual in the north, which is the direction of fire and knowledge, compassion, and the future of your home. Continue in a full circle ending back in the eastern corner of your home and be sure to fan the smoke in each direction. I also play drum music, which is believed to imitate the sound of the heart and say a prayer while completing the ritual.

The prayer is as follows:

May your hands be cleansed, that they create beautiful things.

May your feet be cleansed, that they might take you where you most need to be.

May your heart be cleansed, that you might hear its messages clearly.

May your throat be cleansed, that you might speak rightly when words are needed.

May your eyes be cleansed, that you might see the signs and wonders of the world.

May this person and space be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants.

And may that same smoke carry our prayers, spiraling, to the heavens.

After the ritual is complete, I make a feast and have friends and family over to celebrate the ritual and my new home. Because the house is cleansed, it is a good time to create positive and loving energy in the home, with the added benefit that the smell of sage cleanses everyone who attends. Another common custom is to burn sweet grass after the smudging ritual to encourage kindness and peace. I have not tried this before, but may try it this time.

The smudging ritual is a custom that causes one to pause and consider what energy we want to bring and sustain in our homes. Oftentimes, people are so busy trying to move their furniture in and continue their lives that we forget to meditate on how to create love and happiness in our new dwelling. Every new beginning is an opportunity to cleanse and recreate the ever-desirable feeling of peace in the midst of urban life. The peace of mind and renewal that comes from the ritual is worthwhile and leaves me refreshed every time.

Disclaimer: You may want to disengage the smoke alarm temporarily, or it may go off. Don’t forget to turn it back on!

The hidden Canadian landscapes to explore

When tourists visit Canada, there is a typical route that they follow. From east to west, people visit Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Banff and Vancouver. These are the main cities and they are amazing in their own right. But what about the hidden treasures of our beautiful and vast country? Those are the places that fascinate me and, as a Canadian, I’ve made it my life’s mission to search out as many of these less-popular places as possible.

Take a ride with me on my adventures across Canada:

Beginning in beautiful British Columbia, imagine yourself lying on a secret nude beach resting on the crest of the mountains, surrounded by a midnight black lake. I decided to ditch the tent that night and slept directly on the beach, watched by the rare and beautiful gypsy travellers that populate B.C. I’m looking at the stars, and they are so clear it feels as if I can reach out and touch them.

I’m just outside Nelson, B.C, the unofficial hippie capital of the west. It is a place built entirely on a steep hill, which is absolute hell to climb with a backpack, but is nonetheless worth it once you see the view from the top. Several incense and weed shops line the streets and the town is dedicated to promoting local goods and community, with almost no corporate businesses in the vicinity. The town is nestled deep in the Kootenay mountain pass and is surrounded by large round mountains buried with trees. They look much different from the neighbouring Rockies. Nelson is as close to heaven as you can get. It is an escape from reality, and seems to only exist in a dream where nature and people finally seem to respect one another.

Another one of my favourite spots is in the Okanagan. The hills have grown much smaller, but I’m still awestruck by the contrast between the orange and red rolling desert mountains and the crystal blue lake that snakes through the valley. As you drive on the Coquihalla, the highway through the Okanagan that leads you to Vancouver, you will hit Penticton. It is a town surrounded by hot desert hills and is the home to the deepest lake in Canada.

I have fond memories of driving to Penticton with my boyfriend at the time and our friends to music gigs at rustic bars on the main strip that has since closed. We would climb on the roof while the boys played, and roofhop because the businesses were all connected ( though I don’t condone this behaviour. I had a friend fall of a roof years later). There is nothing better than watching a harvest moon, surrounded by desert hills and listening to B.C folk music, laden with banjos and violins. It is a sound that seems to emit from the very roots of the Okanagan’s heart and I highly recommend seeing one of the local Okanagan bands if you are in the region (Wild Son is a good example).

My next destination takes you on the Trans-Canada highway through the Rogers Pass into Alberta, my home province, the place where my heart rests no matter where I live in this crazy world. A tour of the Rockies will take you to some breathtaking sites and locations, but my absolute favourite town in Alberta is Jasper. Home of black bears, it is the best place for a sighting from a safe distance. Another favourite is Kananaskis, a tiny resort tucked away between Calgary and Banff. Kananaskis is in the entrance to the mountains, also known as the foothills. The vast prairies that rise into rolling hills and then morph into the majestic Rockies is a worthy site to see. Kananaskis has top level climbing, hiking trails and mountain sites.

Both Jasper and Kananaskis remind me of my mother. You haven’t met her, but she is amazing. My mom taught me the worth of driving to the places you love. She taught me to hike,and to respect and appreciate nature. I’ve seen every wild animal in the mountains because of her, from mountain goats to a grizzly bear. As she gets older, I often think of our drives through the Rockies, listening to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and I realize no matter what happens these places will always remind me of her.

As I got older, I began to crave a different kind of Canadian adventure. I wanted to see the cities — the brick and the old stone edifices in the origins of this wonderful country. It was time to venture east. I packed the car, waved goodbye to my family and friends and took off across the prairies, listening to Janis Joplin. I saw the immense and endless splendour of the corn fields, or the yellow ocean as my daughter says. I landed in Brandon, Manitoba to see a friend of mine and it was there that I found this next hidden gem.

Brandon is a small city with a very tight-knit and loving community. I stayed with a friend who lived in the old city hall. The grand building had been converted to a house for people who studied the arts. It had several floors and rooms, and was run by two professors from Brandon University. Walking in the city, I saw my first glances of the historic buildings that helped build this country.

Ontario was next. The first thing I noticed was that the Great Lakes seemed to go on forever. The immensity of these bodies of water nourishes the land, creating a green and vivacious landscape. Kenora, Ont. is on the border between Manitoba and Ontario, and is my secret gem of the north. Surrounded by Lake of the Woods, this body of water winds around the town, which is a series of bushy islands. The Canadian Shield dominates the north as well and massive boulders of rock that jut from the ground create a complex and visceral topography, which is great for hiking and bouldering.

Speaking of history, Quebec City is the oldest city in Canada. I call it the city of all glories, because it has a beautiful waterfront dotted by old shipping boats (who doesn’t love a good boat?), it is built on a hill with narrow and old-fashioned streets, and is the home of the Chateau Frontenac. It is most definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Canada and has a distinctly European flair. Visiting Quebec City, it was exciting to hold my daughter’s hand and explain first-hand how Canada came to be. Plus, ordering a croissant and an Americano in French is always a treat.

Finally, there is the Maritimes. My mother is a born maritimer, and while I may be biased, I stand by this following opinion — people born and raised in the Maritimes are often the sweetest and friendliest people. I often visit Dalhousie, a city that borders Quebec with the Restigouche River between the two provinces. The Restigouche leads into the ocean, and migrating whales stop in the bay annually. My Grandmother has a cottage right on the water that she dubbed “the Hollow”, and I remember hiking with her to pick beach glass and find fossils. Visiting a couple years ago, it is unforgettable to stand at the pier of the lighthouse and listen to Acadians sing French folk songs as sail boats line the bay. You can almost see the ghosts of the first ships to arrive along the Restigouche River hundreds of years ago on ethereal nights such as these.

There are always more stories and more places to share. Canada is a vast and unforgettable country and you never know where the twists and turns will take you. My best advice when traveling Canada is to take the backroads. That is where you will see a proud old man in his electric wheelchair scooting down the street with a Canadian flag on the back, or a wolf standing watch by the roadside. My next stop is the Yukon. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Stay tuned for my photo project of my travels across Canada entitled Shades of Blue: my journey across Canada.

Camping vs. Glamping in Ontario

Camping is the thing to do if you love nature, but learning to do it well takes practice. As a child and teenager, I camped almost every weekend. I remember looking into the campfire as a child and imagining a whole world inside the embers, and spending the days hiking and listening to the birds chirp happily. On the other hand, it does require supplies, and a certain hardiness to really enjoy the experience.

If you don’t enjoy building campfires or sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag, but still yearn for the great outdoors a new alternative has become popular in Ontario. Glamping is the new fad, and it is glamorous indeed. I found several glamping locations in Ontario that offer an experience for those looking to create natural memories in comfort. This type of luxury camping is a form of five-star camping, similar to vacationing at an outdoor hotel in the woods. Glamping includes yurts, eco-tents, eco-cabins, and teepees. Another perk of the glamping experience is the seclusion it offers. Many of the greatest luxury spots in the province are in private locations and allow people to really experience a “get-away”.

By Samuel Etienne
Glamping in the woods, By Samuel Etienne.

If you are looking for the most deluxe glamping experience in Ontario, Outpost Co. is the ticket. The glamping site is located at Obabika Lake and is $2500 per person for four days and three nights in a deluxe tent area. The campsite is on a hidden lake 90 minutes from Billy Bishop Toronto Islands airport and a chartered plane to the location is included in the price. A private chef is also a part of the deal, and the king size beds have Egyptian cotton sheets. This is definitely glamping in style. The campsite has hiking trails and is in a secluded and natural area.

If you are looking for a safari styled camping option, the Elegant Safari Tents in Carolinian Canada is a beautiful and exotic option. The tents are covered with jute carpets and have oak beds that are 100 years old. The campsite is located on a river, and wooden floating decks are built directly in front of the tent. Fluffy towels, bathrobes and soaps are also provided. This glamping experience is located in the Grand River and is $132 per night. Canoeing is available on the lake and the area is replete with remote hiking trails.

Yurt_by_night_-_geograph.org.uk_-_437714
A yurt in the woods.

A yurt is a round, semi-permanent housing structure that comes from Central Asia. Yurts are easy to install and take down and can be adapted easily to different climates. Yurts are popular in the glamping world and are set up in advance for the customers.   A pet-friendly yurt is offered near Algonquin Park and has one unit available. The yurt is in Mattawa in northern Ontario and can accommodate up to five guests. Included are linens, the unit is heated and there is a yoga platform outside of the yurt. It is $193 per night.

A yurt is a new way to camp in a tent-like apparatus but it has more flexibility in warm and cold weather. A yurt can be adapted to have open screens all the way around the unit for ultimate cooling and can also be protected from the wind on all sides, creating the ultimate outdoor tent.

Flowerpot Island, Georgian Bay.
Flowerpot Island, Georgian Bay.

If you prefer camping to glamping, there are several spots to rent cheaply and enjoy an authentic nature experience. All you need is a tent, a campfire and the stars to have a good time. Though a comfy bed would be a nice addition to camping, it can be enjoyable to rough it in the bush for a few days. Parks Canada offers several campsites in Ontario that can be booked online and recognize a variety of types of camping in the province. Camping in Ontario also provides private campsites across the province and makes it easy to book a spot too.

Camping in Georgian Bay and Prince Edward County near the beach is recommended because of the beauty of the lakes and beaches. Algonquin Park is a sight to be seen as well because of the immense forest and calm waters for canoeing. Escaping the city and being able to connect with nature in a visceral way is grounding in the warm summer months and camping provides that opportunity. It also helps to breathe fresh air and exercise in a natural environment for a weekend get-away.

Whether it is glamping or camping, getting out into nature for a vacation is the best way to spend your weekends. Instead of keeping the kids indoors, get your family outside to breathe the fresh air. Tell stories over the campfire, and go on a hike. Experience the silence of being away from the city and the sounds of nature in the early morning. Both options have their merits and experiencing nature at its fullest will be unforgettable no matter how it is done.

Escaping the city to Mont Tremblant

Do you want to know about a secret get-away spot in the mountains with great french beers and fresh air?

I recommend heading to Mont Tremblant National Park in Quebec to find your wild soul within. I felt I needed to get out of the big city and find some peace and quiet, and this French destination was the perfect place.

I rented a car, packed up clothes and snacks for my family, and hit the road. I stopped over in Ottawa to visit Parliament Hill  and to eat a beaver tail before heading further east to the Laurentian Mountains. Mont Tremblant is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding in the winter and rock climbing, canoeing, and hiking in the spring and summer.

This string of mountains is located approximately two hours east of Ottawa, six hours from Toronto and one hour from Montreal by car. The Laurentian mountain range is one of the oldest in the world and there are over 9000 lakes in the area. An abandoned railway line, la P-tit Train du Nord runs 230km from St. Jerome to Mont-Laurier and is one of Canada’s longest linear parks used for cycling, hiking, and cross-country skiing.

Mont Tremblant Village
Mont Tremblant Village

We drove into Mont Tremblant wearing our city attire and quickly changed into warmer clothes and shoes. Initially, the town seemed unimpressive until we drove up the hill and witnessed the lake and mountains at sunset. The Mont Tremblant village resembles a fantasyland with cute cottages surrounded by the mountains. The village was impressive from afar, but the businesses were mostly corporate, which was disappointing. I had hoped for authentic Quebecois shops that reflected the history of the area, but it was more of a commercialized resort.

We quickly moved on to the National Park, located 30 minutes to the east of the town, and headed to the Discovery Centre. It was a building that had friendly bilingual staff, trail maps and information, filtered water and coffee, and washrooms. We set off on an 11 km hike and reached the viewpoint called La Roche in about two hours. The path was well set and there wasn’t too much foot traffic.

Mont Tremblant National Park path
Mont Tremblant National Park path

We enjoyed the top of the climb by eating dark chocolate and trail mix while looking at the Laurentian Mountains for miles down the valley. The view as incredible and it was peaceful being away from the noises of city traffic and sirens. There was still snow on the ground and I recommend wearing boots and winter gear if hiking in April or early May. On the way down the hill, my cousin and I took both hands of my five-year-old and we slid all the way down on the snow. It was an enjoyable experience and my daughter laughed the whole way down.

Mont Tremblant is an easy getaway for nature lovers and in its peak months, is full of activities to do. Though I visited off-season, it was calm and quiet, which is exactly the escape I was craving. It is important to show children the value of natural excursions and I got to witness how happy my daughter was when she is in the outdoors. I will definitely be back to camp, hike, and rock climb in the warmer weather and I hope to see you there with your family and friends.

Do you have a favourite getaway spot within six hours of Toronto? Let us know in the comments below.

 

How do you choose to heal from a break-up?

I want to start by saying each woman has their own way of handling a break-up. Many will sink into despair, keep their sweats on while digging into the baked goodies. Others deny themselves their sadness, move on quickly and efficiently, only to come tumbling down a week or a month later from the pressure of avoiding those terrible feelings. Some have mastered the art of letting go, and to those woman I commend you — and am admittedly also terribly jealous.

I recently went through a break-up and the amount of advice I’ve received has ranged from downright entertaining to adorably helpful. The amount of times I was told to go and purchase desserts immediately and load up on romantic flicks became funny, albeit a bit alarming.

wallow

Why is it that we must feed ourselves sugar and lament our lost loves so pathetically? Is there not a healthier way to be sad, where you still confront the deep dark blues with grace instead of tears and chocolate stains?

This confession is undoubtedly for other women who are going through a break-up or a loss on how to proceed. I feel I have stumbled onto a method of healing that could be helpful, though I still maintain the path to healing is subjective.

I’ve valiantly decided to not succumb to the bad habits and when I told my friends, they laughed at me because it is apparently an approach many take and fail at the break-up routine. Yes, there may be piles of Kleenexes, but they will not be accompanied by pounds of chocolate. I will probably experience painful realizations, but I choose the comforts of Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas rather than a romantic comedy that makes me wish I could return to a relationship that meant to end.

rumi-the self

Clean comforts are key. Tools of healing that will help usher in a new phase of beauty in your life could range from a new creative hobby to a run through a new hidden path in nature. Only you know the mechanisms that will make you feel alive again.  I want to feel the pains and sorrows, dig into it deeply and understand it. But at the same, it is important to support myself by providing healthy comforts to supplement this pain. A good start could be healthy fresh foods and outdoor exercise in a natural area for the body and meditation, books, music, photography and writing for the mind.

A common thread between these activities is they are all solitary activities. This is purposeful. There is an absolute empowerment in being alone if only we are courageous enough to face it. Loneliness is real and terrifying, but it is also a matter of perspective. It can easily turn from a broken feeling into one that empowers you to truly be on your own with yourself. Being alone helps you to move on from your pain fully because you have left yourself with no other choice and avoidance becomes impossible.

Finding a replacement man or woman to try to fill your heart will only leave you spinning further downwards because you cannot truly share yourself when you are in pieces. The demons from your last relationship will haunt the new one if they are not dealt with and that is not fair to your new and unsuspecting lover. Instead, being your own source of support and self-love is the first step to being ready to move on with someone else in the future.

In the end, it isn’t about distractions or isolation. It is about looking in the mirror and loving the person looking back at you no matter how hard that may seem. I ask, how will you love yourself today? What can you do that will make you feel grateful that you have your insightful mind, your beautiful body and your resilient heart? How do you choose to heal?

patti smith quote